Rain Forest Rescue

Our Trees in Madagascar are Saving the Lemurs

By Sheereen Othman | May 20, 2015

toucanTropical rain forests are home to half of the world’s plants and animals, and a source of food, medicines and other plant-based products that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. But according to the California Institute of Technology, about 2,000 trees per minute are cut down in rain forests, destroying natural habitat and displacing wildlife.

Rain forest deforestation affects us all. Approximately 25% of all medicines on the market today come from plants found only in tropical rain forests including treatments for a variety of cancers, malaria and multiple sclerosis. Additionally, deforestation leads to the growing extinction of many species, such as the adorable lemurs.

BW Lemur

Black and white ruffed lemurs provide an ecological service by aiding fruit seed germination through digestion of seed coatings.

Lemurs are small primates found exclusively in the forests of the island nation of Madagascar. As much as 80% of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed, leading to a diminishing population of rare species. Lemurs are unique because they play a key role in the future of trees.  Ninety percent of a lemur’s diet is fruit. As a result of their diet, lemurs eat frequently and process their meals more rapidly.

What does this have to do with trees? The seeds left behind from a lemur’s meal have their coatings removed, allowing for germination in the forest. In fact, the germination rate of seeds processed by lemurs is nearly 100 percent, compared to only 5 percent of unprocessed (or coated) seeds. Lemurs not only live off of the forest, but they’re replanting it too.

lemur disperser

Lemurs are the primary seed disperser of the Madagascar’s eastern rain forest at Sangasanga Mountain.

The Arbor Day Foundation and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium joined forces to advance the reforestation efforts led by the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership in Kianjavato, Madagascar by planting hundreds of thousands of trees to restore habitat. In 2009, the lemur population at Sangasanga Mountain was only eight. As of 2015 the population increased to six times what it was, with a lemur population of fifty! The impact of the reforestation effort in Madagascar has helped more than just the forest; it is helping bring back a species from the brink of extinction.

Saving an endangered animal such as the lemur comes from the help of Arbor Day Foundation members through programs such as Rain Forest Rescue. Thanks to the support of members, the Arbor Day Foundation is able to help restore the forests of Madagascar and provide habitat to save the endangered lemurs. Additionally, the reforestation effort is improving the economy and living conditions of the local people through jobs in tree nurseries and on the mountain sides planting those trees.

If we’re able to increase the lemur population by six times on one mountain top in Madagascar, imagine what we can accomplish on the rest of the island. Tropical rain forests contain more species than any other ecosystem on Earth, yet are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Check out our latest Rain Forest Rescue Report  to see the other impacts our replanting efforts leave.

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