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Why do lemurs live only in Madagascar?

        Animals | Primates

The Lemurs of Madagascar Today
Three captive lemurs get cozy.
Three captive lemurs get cozy.
Gary Vestal/­Getty Images

­Lemurs continue to live in almost all of Madagascar's ecosystems and terrains, and they range in size from the 25-gram pygmy mouse lemur to the 15- to 20-pound (6- to 9-kilogram) Indri [source: Smithsonian National Zoo].

Today there are 88 species of lemurs living in Madagascar [source: Smithsonian National Zoo]. Researchers believe that 10 to 20 previously undiscovered species may be found in the next generation [source: Wild Madagascar]. Lemurs are also found on the nearby Comoros islands; it's generally believed that they were introduced to the area by humans.

Twenty-one percent of all primate genera, the taxonomic groups above species, and 36 percent of all primate families, the taxonomic groups above genus, live in Madagascar. That makes the island a target for preserving and protecting the primates for research. Despite their ecological importance, humans have steadily contributed to the destruction of primate habitats. Eighty percent of the island's forests have been destroyed, mostly for logging or crop cultivation purposes.

­Due to Madagascar's economic constraints -- the average per capita income is equal to about $200 -- and large population of over 14 million people, subsistence for humans outweighs preservation. However, efforts are being made to preserve the lemur and the island's biological diversity, or variation of life forms, in a way that can also help Madagascar's people. Madagascar's diverse geography, which contributes to the variance of the life forms living there, is one of the most unique in the world. Due to both its beautiful landscape and varied animal and plant population, ecotourism has become an increasingly popular industry in Madagascar. It may be the a key to preserving this primate on the verge of extinction [source: Wild Madagascar].

We can also learn much about our own primate pasts from the lemur. Lemurs are less closely related to humans than monkeys and apes. They more closely resemble the primates that existed tens of millions of years ago. Even so, by studying lemur development, researchers might be able to find out more about the human evolutionary process [source: Smithsonian National Zoo].

For more information on lemurs and other primates, please visit the links on the next page.


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