Aye-Aye Conservation hits new heights

Photo courtesy of the BBC

Photo courtesy of the BBC

Note: Originally published in August, this is a re-upload due to server wipe in September

As seen on the BBC Website in a world first, twin Aye-Ayes were born on 10th June this year.

This is great news for the species, which in 2008 was classified as Non-Threatened (NT), however in a recent report in 2012 Aye-Ayes were reclassified as Endangered on the Red Species List. The world’s only nocturnal lemur, The Aye-Aye is facing increasing threats to its survival. Throughout the whole of Madagascar the number of species of lemur classed as Endangered increased from 17 in 2008 to 49 species in 2012, and the percentage of lemur species classed as Endangered increased from 16.8% to 47.6% over the four years.

Reading this article published on 13th August reminded me of my Biology Coursework I produced last year whereby I produced a piece discussing the alternative methods for Aye-Aye Conservation. As I was searching for a story to make my Wildlife Articles debut, it struck me that this is the ideal opportunity to share some extracts from my article whilst sharing the good news. I have taken extracts from my piece and reworded. Whilst my project focuses on the Aye-Aye, it is important to note thousands of species across the world are currently facing a similar fate and it is through various conservation projects that a real difference can be made.
The Aye-Aye, like many animals found in Madagascar is suffering as a result of deforestation. As noted by Gerald Durrell in his book “The Aye-Aye and I”, the slash and burn policy the locals use is detrimental to the health of the forest. “To the peasant, the felling of a piece of forest is not looked upon as ecological suicide, but as a way of gaining a bit of soil that will give him a crop for a few years.”. With the rapid increase in Madagascar’s population, this issue will only continue to worsen in the years ahead.

A solution to prevent the Aye-Aye from becoming extinct is the captive breeding of the species. The first captive-bred individual to be conceived in captivity was born on 27th August 1992 at the Jersey Wildlife Conservation Trust. In total as of 2011, 75 births have occurred in captivity since the 1980s, and with the birth of the twins in Bristol, the total number of Aye-Ayes in captivity has risen to around 64 individuals found across 15 institutions, including the Duke Primate Centre in America, Jersey Wildlife Conservation Trust in the Channel Islands and Bristol Zoo.

One alternative solution to prevent the extinction of the Aye-Aye is to replant the forests which are being destroyed everyday in Madagascar by the local people. This is a significant problem as huge portions of the forest have been cleared. Today, only 10% of the forests of Madagascar remain. Various projects work to repair this damage, such as the ‘Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership’. This reforestation project in Kianjavato in the South-East works with volunteers and the local communities to create ‘forest corridors’, reconnecting the pockets of forest that remain after locals used the ’slash and burn’ policy. This allows the animals in these regions to travel and thus increase the genetic diversity within all species in the forest. As of 2012, this project has planted 30,000 trees.

Another solution is to educate the Malagasy people about their local environment and the creatures they live alongside. Out of Madagascar’s national budget, only 20% is used for education, and of that, only 5% is used to buy learning materials, as the majority goes towards the teachers salaries. As a result of a lack of education, Madagascar’s culture is still deeply superstitious and most villagers consider the Aye-Aye to be ‘fady’, or evil. The Aye-Aye has a long middle finger used to extract grubs from trees when feeding, which some Malagasy people believe the Aye-Aye uses to slit a persons throat while they sleep. Consequently, the Aye-Aye is often killed on sight. This problem will only become worse as the population of Madagascar increases, and more people encroach into the Aye-Ayes territory. Giving out handbooks, creating clubs and setting up community projects will help them build a wider sense of responsibility.

Many Malagasy people are not aware of the laws that currently exist to protect lemurs. “A law is passed for the protection of a species but the inhabitants of the country are not told of the law, and there is no money to provide the infrastructure to enforce this law. Thus to all intents and purposes, the law is useless” (Gerald Durrell, “The Aye-Aye and I”) Raising awareness and reinforcing these laws will reduce the chance of this species becoming extinct in the wild. One successful program is in the Mananara-Nord Biosphere Reserve in North Madagascar. This reserve is split into different areas with differing levels of access, thus the animals are protected and communities on the edges of the reserve are taught how to live sustainably.

It would appear that unless these methods are widely implemented across Madagascar, the extinction of the Aye-Aye in the wild is still a real threat; however, the probability of the species becoming extinct entirely is looking increasingly unlikely due to the successful captive breeding programme.

To read more, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-33878919

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Kayleigh Peace

A keen birder, Kayleigh is currently studying for a Zoology degree.

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