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Friday, 30th October 2020

One step closer to extinction? What IUCN Red List assessments mean for SEED’s lemur work

By Eve Englefield and Sam Ambler

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Thomas' Dwarf Lemur, Cheirogaleus thomasi (Photo by Adam Marks)

In July 2020, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that 98% of all lemurs are now threatened with extinction. A shocking statistic, that simply cannot be ignored, but what does it actually mean? As part of our World Lemur Day activities, we wanted to take this opportunity to look at where this statistic comes from, and how it continues to impact SEED’s conservation work.

The statistic is a result of work through IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, the world’s most comprehensive resource on the extinction risk of species. For each species, data is contributed by experts all over the world and applied against a set of criteria to assess how close a species is to extinction. This has been done for over 120,000 species so far, from lemurs to plants to invertebrates and corals!

Madagascar's Lemurs
108

species assessed

 
103

threatened with extinction

 
33

of which Critically Endangered

 
45

of which Endangered

All lemurs are endemic to Madagascar, and so are found nowhere else in the world. At the time of writing, 108 species of lemur are assessed on the Red List. Out of these, one is already considered to be Extinct, and 103 are threatened with extinction – this means that nearly all lemur species are categorised as either Critically Endangered (33 species), Endangered (45 species) or Vulnerable (25 species). Two species are assessed as Data Deficient, meaning there isn’t enough information to establish their extinction risk, and two species are Least Concern, which is the lowest Category in terms of extinction risk.

With 98% of lemurs at risk, sharing this statistic can be a useful communication tool in highlighting the need for conservation action, and the crucial importance of donations to our conservation work. However, for SEED to implement conservation measures most effectively, it’s important to understand why these species are so at risk so that we can support their survival. Luckily, despite the name, the Red List isn’t actually just a list of species names, but a database including threats and a justification of why a certain species was assigned a certain Category.

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Southern Woolly Lemur, Avahi meridionalis.
Photo © Larissa Barker

For example, we know that lemurs are considered to be threatened due to a significant reduction in their population size and/or having a restricted geographic range. We also know that habitat loss through agriculture (e.g. slash and burn practices) is the main threat to lemurs across Madagascar, as well as the unsustainable use of forest resources (e.g. logging or hunting). SEED has supported this work through the dissemination of our own research findings, which have contributed to the data used in the most recent Red List update. With four Endangered lemur species (Eulemur collaris, Avahi meridionalis, Microcebus tanosi, and Cheirogaleus thomasi) found in the forests around the communities where SEED works, these threats are a real concern for our conservation team. We have therefore used this knowledge, and our own on the ground research, to inform the reforestation efforts of Project Ala, as well as the recent development of our Conservation Programme. In addition, publishing our research and sharing our findings through resources such as the Red List helps other organisations inform their lemur conservation work across Madagascar. This World Lemur Day, we’re looking forward to celebrating all the communities, conservation staff and academics involved in our lemur work, as well as the lemurs themselves!

Find out more about SEED's conservation work.

More information on the IUCN Red List.

All statistics were produced using data from IUCN 2020. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2020-2. https://www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 05 October 2020.