At the end of 2019, the Jersey Zoo team were delighted by the arrival of a baby Alaotran gentle lemur, the first to be born at the zoo in 10 years. The birth is a welcome addition to the breeding programme for this rare species given the critical state of their population in the wild.
The Alaotran gentle lemur, known in Malagasy as ‘bandro’, is unique because it is the only species of primate in the world that is confined to marsh habitat. They are found only in the dense reed beds surrounding Madagascar’s largest lake, Lac Alaotra, and are under increased pressure from the 100,000 people who live around its shores.
Durrell has been working to preserve the unique wetlands around the Alaotra region since 1996. The continued burning of the marshes to make way for rice fields remains the main driver for the rapid decline of the Alaotran gentle lemur. Approximately 2,000 hectares of marsh are burnt each year, mainly by powerful people from outside the local communities who have taken advantage of the lack of regulation and law enforcement. In addition, illegal hunting for pelts and cheap meat have also contributed to a more than 50% decline of the species in just a decade.
Under a project generously supported by the IUCN Save Our Species Lemurs Initiative, and working with local communities and partner organisations, Durrell hopes to restore the wetlands, connect areas of fragmented habitat, and improve monitoring and law enforcement in the area. This past year, conservationists have successfully planted 27 hectares of marsh, which have linked two key areas of lemur habitat and brought together isolated populations.
A vital part of the project involves engaging with the villages surrounding the lake whose inhabitants depend on high-quality marsh to generate income, mainly through fishing, weaving and farming. Restoring this habitat will also help many other threatened species found only in Madagascar, such as the Humblot’s heron and Madagascar rainbow fish.
Natural regeneration of marsh habitat is being restricted by the presence of invasive species such as water hyacinth. Durrell is working with communities to clear the channels and provide training to transform the removed vegetation into organic fertiliser and woven baskets to improve local agriculture and livelihoods. A total of 4.5km of channels have now been successfully cleared of hyacinth.
The annual Festival Bandro was held at the end of 2019 and was attended by around 2,500 people. The festival is a celebration of the Alaotran gentle lemur and highlights the importance of the community-led work to protect the ecosystem in which it lives.
It is hoped that the Alaotran gentle lemur will act as an ambassador species for the widescale restoration of wetlands surrounding Lac Alaotra. By continuing to work with the local community, the success of the project will ensure the long-term protection of this unique ecosystem for the benefit of both the wildlife and people who depend on it.