Madagascar is without a doubt one of the world's highest primate conservation priorities, with very high levels of primate diversity and endemism and more endangered and vulnerable primate taxa than any other country. Madagascar is fourth on the world list of primate species (in spite of being only 1/7 the size of Brazil, the world leader, and roughly one-quarter the size of Indonesia or Zaire, second and third on the world list). Its level of primate endemism, 28 of 30 species (93.5%) or 48 of 50 taxa (96%), is by far the highest in the world. Even the two species that occur elsewhere are found only on the nearby Comores where they were probably introduced from Madagascar.

At the generic and family levels, Madagascar's diversity is even more striking, with fully five primate families, four of which are endemic, and 14 genera of which 13 are found nowhere else. Compare this to Brazil, which has only three families, none of them endemic, and only two endemic genera out of 16. Of the 50 lemur taxa currently recognized for Madagascar, fully 12 are considered endangered and another 18 are believed to be of conservation concern, figures matched only by Brazil. Furthermore, one entire family (Daubentonidae) and five genera are considered endangered, a degree of endangerment at higher taxonomic levels that not even Brazil can match and that is of great international concern.

Looking at Madagascar's diversity in yet another way, Madagascar alone is home to 13% (30/236) of all primate species and 25% (14/57) of all primate genera, a great responsibility for any one nation.

Madagascar also demonstrates clearly that primate extinctions are a very real phenomenon and not a figment of the conservationist's imagination. Fully six genera and at least 14 species of lemurs have already gone extinct on this island since the arrival of our own species there less than 2000 years ago, and, as indicated here, many others could disappear within the next few decades if rapid action is not taken.

The Primate Specialist Group of IUCN/SSC has long recognized Madagascar as a top priority and is pleased to present this Action Plan to guide its activities over the critical last decade of the 20th century. As should be obvious from the projects described here, one of the most glaring gaps in our knowledge of lemurs is often the most basic information on geographic distribution and conservation status. In spite of several centuries of observation and collection and more than three decades of research, we still are not clear as to the limits of distribution of most species and have only the most subjective impressions of conservation status for many taxa.

The striking cases of two new species being discovered in the last five years, another being redisovered, and yet another, the aye-aye, previously believed to be highly restricted and nearly extinct and now being found in many different parts of the island, are good indicators of how ignorant we still are. Clearly, much more thorough survey work is needed for all species, with special emphasis on the most endangered, among them Hapalemur aureus, Hapalemur simus, Hapalemur griseus alaotrensis, Varecia variegata variegata, Varecia variegata rubra, Propithecus diadema diadema, Propithecus diadema perrieri, Propithecus tattersalli, Indri indri, Daubentonia madagascariensis and Allocebus trichotis. Projects for all of these and many other species are included in the Action Plan.

Another key feature of the Action Plan is a wide variety of projects using these beautiful and unique species as “flagships” for public awareness and education campaigns, both to stimulate general interest in conservation within Madagascar and to focus ever more international attention on the importance of this country in global efforts to conserve biological diversity. Since lemurs are the most attractive, conspicuous and best known of Madagascar's wildlife, they are ideally suited to this purpose.

Along with this Action Plan, we are also publishing a field guide to the lemurs of Madagascar to stimulate ecotourism and basic research. As with other publications of their kind, these documents have been collaborative efforts incorporating the knowledge of a number of specialists both in Madagascar and internationally. We believe that they come at a timely moment in the history of Madagascar and that they will serve to stimulate interest in and facilitate conservation efforts for these wonderful creatures and their remaining habitat.

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