Endangered lemur species found only in Madagascar are being slaughtered and served up in local restaurants as poachers take advantage of a security vacuum on the island after a coup earlier this year.
Pictures of the blackened remains of scores of crowned lemurs and golden crowned sifakas, smoked in preparation for transport, have been released by environmental protection group Conservation International.
James Mackinnon, technical director at the group’s Madagascar office, said gangs were trapping rare animals for Asia’s pet market, unwinding hard-fought conservation gains on the island.
Conservationists say biodiversity on the world’s fourth- largest island is being wiped out on a shocking scale.
Foreign donors, who provided the bulk of funding for the country’s national parks and environmental programmes, suspended aid after Andry Rajoelina toppled the island’s president with the help of renegade troops in March. The authorities, on a shoestring budget, have been unable to control the surge in criminal activity.
The Indian Ocean island, which was isolated from other land masses for more than 160 million years, is a biodiversity “hotspot”, home to hundreds of exotic species found nowhere else.
Poachers are using slingshots and traps to hunt the lemurs in Daraina, a newly protected region in the far north of Madagascar.
Only 8,000 golden crowned sifakas, found only in Daraina, remain in the wild and risk being wiped out within weeks. “More than anything else, these poachers are killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” said Russ Mittermeier, president of Conservation International.
“[They are] wiping out the very animals that people most want to see and undercutting the country and especially local communities by robbing them of future eco-tourism revenue.”
The island’s wildlife was popularised in the 2005 DreamWorks animated film Madagascar and its 2008 sequel, voiced by stars including Ben Stiller and Sacha Baron Cohen as the lemur king.
Eco-tourism is the backbone of Madagascar’s $390 million-a-year (€273 million) tourism industry, which has been wrecked by the political turmoil.