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Updated: December 13, 2010 20:28 IST

New lemur species discovered

Shanta Barley
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A Ring-tailed Lemur helps his two-month-old baby at Chiba Zoological Park near Tokyo. File photo
AP A Ring-tailed Lemur helps his two-month-old baby at Chiba Zoological Park near Tokyo. File photo

Scientists believe they have discovered a new species of lemur in the forests of Madagascar.

The animal’s unique, feathery structure under its tongue - possibly used to gather nectar - distinguishes it as a new species, researchers say. They are waiting for the results of a genetic analysis to confirm the claim.

Primatologist Russ Mittermeier, who is the president of Conservation International, first glimpsed the lemur in 1995 in Daraina, a forest in north-east Madagascar. It had a black stripe on its back that forked on its face, suggesting to Mr. Mittermeier that it was a fork-marked lemur belonging to the genus Phaner. “I was surprised to see a fork-marked lemur there, since this animal had not yet been recorded from the region,” he said. “I immediately knew that it was likely a new species to science.”

It was not until October this year, however, that Mr. Mittermeier returned to Daraina, along with a film crew from the BBC’s Natural History Unit, to investigate. After hearing the distinctive calls of a fork-marked lemur, the team tracked it through the forest and shot it with a tranquilliser gun. They took blood samples from the lemur for genetic analysis and returned it to the wild when it regained consciousness.

Footage of the lemur will be shown tomorrow on the BBC programme Decade of Discovery, in which film-maker Chris Packham goes in search of his top 10 favourite new species of the last decade.

Although the results from the genetic analysis have not been revealed, Mr. Mittermeier is convinced that the creature is a new species of fork-marked lemur that is uniquely adapted to the forests of Daraina. “This is yet another remarkable discovery from the island of Madagascar, the world’s highest priority biodiversity hotspot and one of the most extraordinary places in our planet,” Mr. Mittermeier said. “It is particularly remarkable that we continue to find new species of lemurs and many other plants and animals in this heavily impacted country, which has already lost 90% or more of its original vegetation.”

Linn Groeneveld, a primatologist based at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, is sceptical about Mr. Mittermeier’s claims. “A great number of new lemur species have been described in the last decades and I think people have, rightly so, expressed concern about the validity of some of these species. I believe that we should use an integrative approach to species delimitation, which relies on multiple lines of evidence.”

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010



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