Newly discovered dwarf lemur could be a new species

  • 12/08/2015
Could this be a new species of dwarf lemur? (Louise Jasper)
Could this be a new species of dwarf lemur? (Louise Jasper)

By 3 News online staff

A long time ago, it seems a population of lemurs moved it, moved it to an uninhabited island off Madagascar and could have possibly shrunk into a new dwarf species.

UK conservation researcher Charlie Gardner and his wife Louise Jasper discovered the lemurs on a night walk while holidaying on Nosy Hara in April, New Scientist reports. 

It's thought the small animals, which seem unafraid of humans, could have evolved as a result of being on an isolated island with no predators.

"I'm sure we could have touched them if we had tried", Mr Gardner says.

"They didn't approach us, but they didn't flee either. They just say there transfixed on their branches."

The island is 312 hectares and is covered in craggy limestone rock with small patches of forest in the valleys where the lemurs were spotted.

The couple, who often go on night walks, came across the animal after their torchlight reflected back from its eyes. They saw five others in two days.

They believed it was a dwarf lemur, but were surprised to see one because they haven't been seen off Madagascar's main island before.

The closest dwarf species lived about 25km southeast of Nosy Hara and are red and much bigger, while the small grey lemurs are about 64km away.

Professor Peter Kappeler, of the German Primate Centre in Goettingen, says the evidence of whether this is a new species or not is preliminary.

Because no tissue samples or measurements were taken it is difficult to say, Prof Kappeler believes. It could also be that the animals were the juveniles of the species.

"Given the lack of fear on this predator-free island, it is plausible that these animals have lived there for long enough to exhibit insular dwarfism and reproductive isolation from their ancestors," he says.

The couple hopes researchers would head to the island to confirm whether it is a new species; however that scientific process could take years of lab work.

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