The Perils of Madagascar's Singing Lemurs
Tree-Dwelling Vocalists Are Threatened by Deforestation
Listen to the story from Weekend Edition Sunday.
May 12, 2002 -- On the island of Madagascar, nearly 300 miles off the coast of southeast Africa, flora and fauna have evolved independently from the rest of the world. Most of the mammals of Madagascar are found nowhere else.
One vivid attention-getter is the lemur. More than 30 species of the thick-furred, big-eyed primates live in the island's thick forests. The largest is the indri, which grows to four feet. It has a teddy-bear face, a panda-like body and the ability to bound from branch to branch like an arboreal kangaroo, leaping 30 feet in one bounce.
As NPR's Julie McCarthy discovered firsthand in a report for Weekend Edition Sunday, the indri also owns a powerful set of lungs. Groups guard their treetop territories with vocal outbursts as piercing as airhorns. Songs greet the dawn and the dusk, and have even been featured on an album of traditional Malagasy music.
There's a darker side to the tale. Deforestation threatens the lemur's survival, and the larger species are in additional peril because they require the most habitat. Humans chip away at the forest by toppling trees to clear the land for cultivation, and for sales of firewood and charcoal.
In recent times, lemurs have also been targeted by hunters, as cultural changes and poverty erode a taboo against eating them.
To protect the singing indri and other wildlife, authorities set up the Andasibe Nature Reserve in Madagascar's eastern rainforest. It's supposed to be an 800-acre sanctuary, but laws to curtail deforestation are laxly enforced, in part because of the island's political instability.
As McCarthy points out, improving the lot of Madagascar's poor population is the key to any attempt to save the country's rich biodiversity.
Take a National Geographic Radio Expeditions trip to Madagascar with NPR's Alex Chadwick.
View Madagascar as seen on the PBS series The Living Edens.
Children can learn more about lemurs at thewildones.org, the children's education program of Wildlife Trust.
Find facts on Madagascar from The Library of Congress Federal Research Division.