Two thousand years ago, when Madagascar was untouched by humans, lemurs as large as gorillas, weighing 200 kg, flourished on the island off the eastern coast of Africa.
Today, the giant lemur can be only found as fossils. Worse, the modern lemur – ranging in size from 2.5 inches to that of a mouse – will soon be extinct too.
Their nemesis, humans, are making it difficult for the species to survive in the wild. Some people hunt them, collecting their young for the pet trade. But the biggest threat is habitat loss, for they are being driven by everything from logging and agriculture to climate change.
Lemurs were named after “lemures,” a term from Roman mythology that means ghosts or spirits, thanks to the nocturnal habits and slow pace of the species.
The only lemurs that are active during daylight are the ring-tailed lemur, the iconic primate immortalised in the 2005 animated movie Madagascar as King Ringtail Julien XIII. The “Lord of the Lemurs,” voiced by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, taught us how to “move it” and laugh at his antics.
The way the species are surviving in today’s harsh habitats shows how dire the situation has become. True, there are conservation efforts by locals too, as seen in the video above, but years of mismanagement, political instability and poverty are taking their toll.
If King Julien had existed in real life, he might have described humans the way his film counterpart had: “They are aliens! Savage aliens from the savage future!”