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Lemurs have it tough these days.
The political chaos that has engulfed Madagascar this year has spurred a flurry of illegal logging activities inside national parks meant as safe havens for these unique creatures. What is more, loggers hunt the primates for food while they stay for weeks on end in the protected forests, and even sell lemurs as bushmeat to local restaurants (see the grisly photos here.)
There are reasons to be concerned. First, the roughly 100 species of lemurs are unique to Madgascar and a few neighboring islands thanks to Madagascar's separation from Africa some 160 million years ago that led lemurs to evolve separately from their distant African cousins. Second, they are extremely entertaining to watch and incredibly cute.
Russell Mittermeier, Conservation International's president, has crisscrossed the world (as evidenced by an inch-thick passport full of visas) to see some of the most iconic endangered species, but lemurs retain a special spot in his heart.
"To me it's a cross between a teddy bear and a giant panda," Mittermeier said gazing at indris — the world's largest lemurs — during a recent visit to Andasibe National Park.
"Isn't that the coolest thing?" he asked when an indri leaped from tree to tree while maintaining an upright position. "I've seen it a million times, and I love it every time."
Indris communicate through howls that can be heard miles away. (Nicolas Brulliard/GlobalPost)
Brown lemurs at a sanctuary near Andasibe National Park show their gratitude to Russell Mittermeier, Conservation International's president and world-renowned expert on lemurs. (Nicolas Brulliard/GlobalPost)