My environmental message for the day: Melanie McGrath reports on Madagascar’s threatened lemurs:
Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries, and is hugely dependent on rice. In the past century, the island has lost 90% of its forest to slash-and-burn agriculture, or tavy. The once thickly covered central highlands are now a wasteland, scarred by soil erosion. […] The impact of forest clearance has been compounded by hunting: a good-sized lemur will fetch up to $3 as bushmeat. Local taboos protect some lemurs, notably the white sifaka, which is believed by the Sakalava people to be an ancestor spirit, and the indri, which the people of Betsimisaraka say once raised an orphan boy as their own. But other taboos are less forgiving. The devilish-looking aye-aye is condemned to death on sight. It is said to creep up on sleeping people, insert its long, ball-and-socket-joined middle finger into an ear and pull out their brains. (In fact it does nothing more sinister with this remarkable digit than pluck insect larvae out of trees.) It is now highly endangered; only its wide distribution and nocturnal nature have kept it from disappearing altogether.