Saving the Critically Endangered Indri Lemur


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Critically endangered lemurs and amphibians cling to survival in the rainforests of eastern Madagascar. Rainforest Trust is working with a local partner to urgently create secure reserves for these species before Madagascar’s Government opens unprotected areas to extractive industries in 2015.

  • Indri Lemur. Photo by Michael Sale

Of the planet’s major biodiversity hotspots, few compare to the island of Madagascar. Over 80% of its flora and fauna are found nowhere else. Located in the Indian Ocean, the island has much to offer the world in the way of biological richness. But rapid deforestation and habitat loss threaten many of its species with extinction.

In Madagascar’s Moramanga District these threats pose a dire risk to endemic wildlife, including the Indri, the world’s largest lemur. To protect these lush forests and the threatened species that inhabit them, Rainforest Trust is collaborating with local Malagasy partner Madagasikara Voakajy to create a network of seven protected areas totaling 74,816 acres. The largest of these, the proposed Mangabe protected area, will act as a last stronghold for the critically endangered Golden Mantella Frog, one of Madagascar’s most threatened and enigmatic amphibian species.


  • Few Countries can rival Madagascar's incredible biodiversity. Photo by Robin Moore.

The rainforests of eastern Madagascar are legendary for their high endemism rates and biodiversity. The proposed Mangabe protected area alone contains nearly 500 plant species. Among its mammals, some of the most threatened are its lemurs. Of the nearly 100 lemur species found on Madagascar, 91% are threatened with extinction. As a result, they are perhaps the most threatened mammal group on earth.

Surviving within the forest canopy of the proposed Mangabe reserve is the largest of all lemurs, the Indri, which is one of the 25 most endangered primates on earth. The forest is also home to another critically endangered lemur, the Diademed Sifaka, a species so sensitive to habitat disturbance it readily abandons areas suffering even minor degradation.

The proposed protected area will also provide essential habitat for the critically endangered Golden Mantella, a frog species whose entire range covers less than 35 square miles. Over 60% of the remaining Golden Mantella population will be protected within the Mangabe reserve.

Other endangered wildlife found in the proposed reserve includes the Aye-aye (EN), a nocturnal lemur; the Fossa (VU), a cat-like carnivore; the Tarzan Chameleon (CR); a gecko, Phelsuma pronki (CR); and two species of bats, the Madagascan Fruit Bat (VU) and the Madagascan Flying Fox (VU).


  • Mining and unregulated Agricultural expansion are rapidly Destroying wildlife habitat. Photo by World Resources Institute.

Due to low agricultural yields, slash-and-burn agriculture is commonly employed to clear and prepare new farmlands within Madagascar’s Moramanga District. As the human population increases its forests are being quickly transformed into fields. Likewise, endangered wildlife faces greater danger from more hunters.

Nickel, gold and cobalt mining operations pose an additional threat. The toxic chemicals used in these mines inevitably enter the local environment with deadly impacts on wildlife. In the Moramanga District, open-pit mines have already significantly damaged Golden Mantella breeding ponds.

The need to act now is imperative. An announcement from Madagascar’s national government that lands not officially designated as IUCN Protected Areas by 2015 may be forced to surrender property rights and be opened to logging, agriculture, and mining uses.


  • Local communities have played an active role in developing conservation plans. Photo by Robin Moore.

Local communities are supportive of conservation efforts and have played an active role with Madagasikara Voakajy to develop a five-year conservation plan for the proposed Mangabe protected area.

These communities, which have a population of approximately 6,000, are composed primarily of Madagascar’s Betsimisaraka and Bezanozano ethnic groups. For survival, most families depend on subsistence agriculture, including the production of rice, maize and cassava.


  • Eastern Madagascar is dominated by dense rainforest. Photo by Robin Moore.

Known as the “Great Red Island” due to its reddish soils, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Localized climactic conditions have filled Madagascar’s landscape with an amazing variety of ecosystems ranging from deserts to rainforests.

Located in eastern Madagascar, the proposed Mangabe reserve is situated in an ecoregion dominated with dense tropical vegetation. This rainforest, which extends from Marojejy National Park in the north down to the southern edge of the island, is home to the majority of Madagascar’s biodiversity. The landscape is composed of narrow coastal plain that leads to a series of rugged ravines rising to 1,500 feet. Three distinct ecological zones (lowland rainforest, moist montane forest, sclerophyllous montane forest) and are found within the region.


  • Rainforest Trust is working to permanently protect 74,816 acres. Photo by Robin Moore.

Working with our partner Madagasikara Voakajy, Rainforest Trust will support the permanent protection of 74,816 acres of threatened forest in eastern Madagascar. By doing so, we will ensure that essential habitat remains intact for the Indri, Golden Mantella Frog and many other endangered species. In addition to the Mangabe reserve, six smaller protected areas will also be established that will protect over half of all remaining breeding pools for the Golden Mantella.

To ensure the long-term sustainability of these reserves, Madagasikara Voakajy has developed an inclusive conservation strategy that will improve human livelihoods while reducing pressure on natural habitats. Madagasikara Voakajy has already succeeded in engaging local communities to develop conservation plans and will continue to educate surrounding populations about the importance of conservation through educational activities and the creation of wildlife-themed festivals.