A stunning blue-eyed primate may have just 11 years left before it is driven extinct.
The sobering revelation comes from a new modelling study examining the survival of the blue-eyed black lemur, an animal only rediscovered in 1985 and elevated to species status in 2008.
As it’s name suggests, the animal has impressive blue eyes, a feature shared by perhaps no other primate, apart from humans. Males are black with blue eyes, and females red-brown with blue eyes.
It is also critically endangered, placing it among the rarest primates on the planet.
The lemur (Eulemur flavifrons) lives within a restricted range in the north-western dry deciduous forest of Madagascar.
Recent surveys have counted a few hundred individuals, but it remains unclear how many more survive in areas yet to be surveyed.
Logging and fires are destroying the lemur’s habitat.
So Maria Volampeno of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and colleagues in Madagascar decided to model the impact of this habitat loss on the lemur’s future, taking into account how often the lemurs reproduce, die and varying the levels of human impact.
They found, under every scenario they modelled, that they lemur will go extinct within a century.
If trees are destroyed at a relatively low rate, the lemur will be extinct within 44 years.
But if the rate of habitat loss climbs, and the lemurs struggle to reproduce, as they find themselves living in isolate pockets of forest, then the species could die out in just 11 years.
The scientists say their models, published in the African Journal of Ecology, should be tested and refined further.
But the techniques they used are generally well regarded, with scientists often using similar models to predict how wildlife populations might change in the future, including the risk of extinction.
They recommend urgent conservation measures be taken to prevent slash and burn agriculture, selective logging, mining and the burning of the forest from driving the blue-eyed black lemur out of existence.
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