Ring-tailed lemur Rvb

Lemurs are now on the verge of extinction and have become the most threatened mammal group on earth, experts have warned.

Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at Bristol Zoo Gardens has authored an article stressing the importance of a three-year emergency action plan to save the lemurs.

At present over 90% of lemur species are threatened with extinction, with driving factors including human disturbance to their habitats, poaching and the loss of conservation and environmental programmes following political crisis in Madagascar.

Schwitzer, together with 10 lemur conservationists and researchers, say more reserves must be created and managed by local communities, while the promotion and expansion of ecotourism is essential.

"Fact is that if we don't act now, we risk losing a species of lemur for the first time since our records began," he said.. " Lemurs have important ecological and economic roles and are essential to maintaining Madagascar's unique forests, through seed dispersal and attracting income through ecotourism. Their loss would likely trigger extinction cascades. The importance of the action plan cannot be overstated."

Red-fronted lemur Aleix Cabarrocas Garcia

Twenty-two of the 101 lemur species are now classified as critically endangered, with a further 48 on the endangered list and 20 classed as vulnerable.

"Despite profound threats to lemurs, which have been exacerbated by the five-year political crisis, we believe there is still hope. Past successes demonstrate that collaboration between local communities, non-governmental organisations and researchers can protect imperiled primate species," Schwitzer continued.

"Madagascar recently held their first post-crisis presidential elections. There are encouraging signs that the new president, former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina, will set the conditions for a return to effective governance and, very importantly, resumption of international aid."

Schwitzer said stakeholders were urgently invited to help the conservation effort to ensure the survival of lemurs: "Madagascar - and the world - would undoubtedly be much poorer without them," he said.

Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and co-author of the letter, said the plan was "ambitious but attainable".

"Lemurs, tortoises, rosewood, and other natural resources in Madagascar have been collateral damage and victims of the political instability that has persisted for nearly five years. However, with the new democratically-elected government of President Rajaonarimampianina, we have high hopes that this exploitation of natural resources will be curtailed in the near future."