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Hands-on science to sustain Madagascar's resources and people

Greater Bamboo Lemur Translocation

Primary Investigator: Tobias Gräßle

I pictured Madagascar quite differently before my first visit last year. Documentaries had led me to anticipate a pristine wilderness with lemurs all over the place, but the drive from Antananarivo to Centre ValBio revealed another reality—large-scale habitat loss. Anthropogenic driven habitat loss constitutes one of the major threats to biodiversity all over the world, but in Madagascar the degree of destruction is particularly striking.

tobias101 Luckily it is not all bad news. Natural paradises still exist scattered across the island. One of them, Ranomafana National Park (‘RNP’), is illustrative of how communities living around protected areas can work with researchers, government organizations, and NGOs to protect and restore wildlife habitats. Here sustainable ecotourism helps bring income to local communities and CVB’s state of the art research facilities bring researchers, such as myself on the Greater Bamboo Lemur Translocation Project.

The overall objective of the project is to move individuals from a population of critically endangered greater bamboo lemurs (Prolemur simus) living in a degraded unprotected forest in the Karianga region into RNP. As part of this project, in August a diverse team of CVB technicians, researchers, and veterinarians conducted the first stage of the project—assessing current population size and individual health to decide on animals suitable for translocation.

For this, lemurs were tranquilized and as part of the veterinary team I monitored the anesthetized lemurs closely, as their wellbeing is of uppermost importance during such interventions. Furthermore, we collected an extensive sample set from each animal, so that many different research groups could use them to help assess the health and risks facing these animals—amongst them the Leendertz Lab at the Robert Koch-Institute, where I am currently working on my Ph.D.

Our research is focused on the epidemiology and evolution of infectious wildlife diseases, in particular those affecting primates. Diseases are a natural part of any species’ ecology, but anthropogenic habitat loss has led to fragmented and depleted populations of primates, leaving many vulnerable to being critically affected by disease. Understanding the drivers of wildlife mortality has become an integral part of conservation. The Leendertz Lab helps to implement wildlife health monitoring at several primatology field sites across Africa, maintaining an emphasis on building local capacity.

Most of the diseases we investigate are zoonoses—capable of jumping from animals to humans and vice versa. As over 60% of all emerging human infectious diseases are estimated to have zoonotic origins, wildlife diseases should clearly be considered a significant threat to global health — exemplified by lethal diseases like Ebola, SARS, coronavirus, and the plague. On the other hand, human and livestock pathogens can infect wildlife as well, meaning that increasing anthropogenic disturbance may bring another threat to wildlife; our diseases. By monitoring pathogens impacting wildlife populations, we can help human populations living in proximity to wildlife by designing strategies that minimize their risk of infection, while also protecting wildlife.