London: The lemurs of Madagascar - known for their haunting cries and reflective eyes - are the most endangered primate group on Earth, because they are losing their forest habitat, according to conservationists.
According to the experts, more than 90 percent of the 103 species should be on the Red List of Threatened Species.
Since a coup in 2009, conservation groups have repeatedly found evidence of illegal logging, and hunting of lemurs has emerged as a new threat.
The assessment, conducted by the Primate Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has concluded that 23 lemurs qualify as Critically Endangered – which is the highest class of threat.
Fifty-two are in the Endangered classification, and a further 19 have been categorised into Vulnerable to extinction group.
“That means that 91 percent of all lemurs are assessed as being in one of the Red List threatened categories, which is far and away the largest proportion of any group of mammals,” the BBC quoted Russ Mittermeier, chairman of the specialist group and president of Conservation International, as saying.
Detailed observation and genetic testing have revealed that several cases where populations that had been presumed to belong to one species were in fact from different ones.
The 103rd species, a mouse lemur that has yet to be named, was also identified during the assessment exercise.
Now, scientists attribute the rapid worsening of lemurs`` status to destruction of their tropical forest habitat on Madagascar, where political turmoil has increased poverty and accelerated illegal logging. Hunting has also emerged as a more serious threat to the animals than in the past.
“Several national parks have been invaded, but of greater concern is the breakdown in control and enforcement,” Dr Mittermeier said.
“There’s just no government enforcement capacity, so forests are being invaded for timber, and inevitably that brings hunting as well,” he added.