At present, about 40% of Malagasy lemurs are considered endangered and many more are likely to enter the endangered category as we learn more about them. And what is happening to lemurs is happening to the rest of Madagascar’s fauna and flora as well.
Despite the many problems, there is cause for optimism in Madagascar. In November 1985, a special National Conservation Strategy Conference held there attracted representatives from many international organizations, including IUCN, the World Wildlife Fund, the United Nations Environment Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank, and a number of bilateral aid organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development. This conference generated a great deal of enthusiasm for conservation among the Malagasy themselves and should serve as an important take-off point for future conservation activities. Several projects supported by the World Wildlife Fund are also serving as models for community involvement in conservation, and are attracting international attention to the need for conservation in this all-important country. Of particular importance in this respect is the Beza-Mahafaly project in southwestern Madagascar, which is being conducted by researchers from the University of Madagascar, Yale University, Washington University, and the Missouri Botanical Garden (Sussman et al., 1985).
To be sure, a great deal still needs to be done in Madagascar to ensure that the country’s amazing biological diversity is maintained for future generations. Nevertheless, the time appears to be ripe to accomplish something of major proportions there and in effect to change the course of conservation history in this unique country.
As indicated in Table 16–2, there is a very disproportionate distribution of primate diversity in the world. Just four countries, Brazil, Madagascar, Zaire, and Indonesia, by themselves account for approximately 75% of all the world’s primate species. If we are going to maintain global primate diversity, we must pay special attention to these countries over the next few decades, not to the exclusion of others but certainly more than we have in the past.
Needless to say, these megadiversity countries are not just important for primates. Although we are still in the process of compiling data, it appears that approximately 50 to 80% of the world’s total biological diversity will be found in some 6 to 12 tropical countries. The first 6 of these to have emerged from the preliminary analysis are Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Zaire, Madagascar, and Indonesia (see Figure 16–2). Not only do these countries have a major portion of the world’s biological diversity, they have an even higher percentage of the world’s diversity at risk—the very diversity that is in danger of disappearing over the next decade and that is of so much concern to conservation biologists. All these countries are undergoing rapid environmental change, are facing severe economic problems, and in general, lack the resources to develop the broad-based conservation programs needed to conserve biological diversity on their own. This means that people of the developed world are going to have to work in much closer collaboration with colleagues in these countries in the years to come and that the developed countries will have to provide far more resources for conservation than ever before.