Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Branson's brood

Sir Richard Branson announced plans in April to import lemurs to his 120-acre private island in the Caribbean (photo here) to save them from the deforestation that threatens them in their native Madagascar. "Here on Moskito Island we've got a beautiful rainforest - we brought in experts from South Africa, and they say it would be an absolutely perfect place where lemurs can be protected and breed," he said. The idea raised red flags among conservationists, who pointed out that the introduction of non-native species often has unforeseen consequences. They pointed to the example of cane toads released in Australia and fear that the lemurs would devastate the local lizard populations like the non-native brown tree snake has done to the birds of Guam. Scientists described lemurs as "opportunistic predators," so even though they are threatened themselves, they are a threat to native species and are unsuited for the island's habitat. One biologist disagreed, explaining, “Lemurs are extremely soft on the environment. They eat mostly flowers and leaves. That doesn’t mean they’re not opportunistic if they get a chance to grab a fly or a spider.” Still, environmentalists called the plan reckless and risky.

Despite the concerns, the plan was approved by the government of the British Virgin Islands, and was to begin with a shipment of 30 ring-tailed lemurs moved from zoos in Sweden, South Africa, and Canada. 'The debate about the plight of the lemurs and what should be done about them, and whether or not my idea was a good idea or bad idea was certainly an eye-opener to me," Branson said. But after consulting with the world's leading experts on lemurs, he will house them in enclosures rather than allow them to roam free. Branson hopes to provide assurance colonies for several species of lemur should they disappear or become severely depleted in the wild.

1st image) An as yet unnamed lemur born in March at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo receiving a lick from its 1-year-old sister Salina, 2nd image) The same baby riding on the back of its 7-year-old mother Nebbie (short for Nebuchadrezzer), 3rd image) The south end of some ring-tailed lemurs going north, 4th image) Lemurs frolicking with their billionaire benefactor Branson.

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