afrol News, 26 March - A new population of the rare giant mouse lemur has been discovered in south-western Madagascar's Ranobe forest, exiting environmentalists. Researchers say the population could be a new, unknown sub-species.
Last year during a night survey monitoring biodiversity along the gallery forest of Ranobe near Toliara, while on a mission for the environmental group WWF, Charlie Gardner and Louise Jasper, came across a giant mouse-lemur (Mirza), foraging within fruiting figs, WWF reports today.
Two species of Mirza are currently known. These are the Coquerel's Mouse lemur found in the southwestern spiny forest eco region; and the smaller Northern Giant Mouse lemur, which was only discovered in 2005. The new sighting is of a Coquerel's, which never has been seen in the Ranobe forests before.
Coquerel's Mouse-lemurs are "near threatened" according to IUCN, which means that they might qualify for vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered in the near future. Their population trend is decreasing. "The discovery of a new population is exciting as it raises hopes for the species' survival," according to WWF.
The observed species from the Ranobe gallery forest, according to the researcher Charlie Gardner exhibits "significant differences in the coloration of its coat from the other two species," which had made its classification difficult.
"The specimen that we observed appears to have a lighter dorsal coloration than is noted for Mirza coquereli, and has conspicuous reddish or rusty patches on the dorsal surface of the distal ends of both fore- and hind-limbs. The ventral pelage is also conspicuously light in colour, and the animal possesses a strikingly red tail, also becoming darker at the end," he adds.
"This is to suggest that it may not only be a new population, but a new species or subspecies," Mr Gardner says. However, the researcher adds that the animal has to be trapped, examined and tested before it can be officially described as a new species.
"These findings not only highlight the biological importance of the area, but also emphasise how little we know about these rapidly disappearing forests," WWF comments. "Without the creation of new protected areas, we would risk losing species to extinction before they have even been discovered or described," the environmentalists add.
This new lemur population is not the first exciting discovery from the Ranobe forests in recent years. In 2005, scientists described the rediscovery of Mungotictis decemlineata lineata, a subspecies of the narrow-striped mongoose that had not been observed since 1915, and which was only ever known from a single specimen. This subspecies may be entirely restricted to the new protected area.
"The representative of the new Mirza population was discovered just outside the limits of the protected area," WWF says. "It highlights the critical need to extend the limits of this protected area."
This area received temporary protection status in December 2008. However, due to the presence of mining concessions, the limits of the protected area did not extend to include the gallery forests of Ranobe.
"It is a hotspot of biodiversity clamped on almost all sides by mining concessions. WWF is currently applying for the extension of the PA to include more key habitats within the decree of definitive protection," Malika Virah-Sawmy, WWF coordinator in Madagascar, said.
Every year, large areas of Ranobe forests are felled by charcoal sellers, and in the past, much of the region was granted for mining concessions for the various minerals deposited in its rich sand soils. Meagre crops of maize are also planted on the calcareous soils, after felling and burning the forests.
Mr Gardner's research, based at the University of Kent, is focused on reconciling conservation and sustainable rural development within new protected areas. This research aims at informing the management of PK32-Ranobe, allowing the identification of win-win scenarios that could benefit all stakeholders.
"We hope the area will not only represent the single most important conservation area within the spiny forest, but also a place where communities are benefiting from conservation through ecotourism and other sustainable livelihoods," says Ms Virah-Sawmy
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