Captive populations of lemurs in European zoos: mismatch between current species representation and ex-situ conservation needs
Lemur News , Volume 23 p. 60- 66
Captive breeding programmes in zoological institutions can be important tools for conservation. Lemurs are popular zoo animals and are present in hundreds of zoos outside of Madagascar. But are captive lemur populations integrated into exsitu conservation efforts? Are lemur species in zoos chosen because of their conservation value, popular appeal, or some other considerations? Here, we address these questions, focusing on zoological institutions of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) network. We assess whether lemur species presence in EAZA zoos is linked to taxonomy, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) threat category and/or biological traits (body mass and diet). We find that a total of 22 of 109 lemur species are currently kept in EAZA zoos (July 2021). Our results show that some species (e.g. Lemur catta, Varecia variegata) and genera (e.g. Eulemur) are over-represented in zoos, whereas some species- rich genera are poorly represented (Microcebus) or not represented at all (Lepilemur). Body mass and diet are strong indicators of presence in captivity, with larger or frugivorous species overrepresented, and small or folivorous species underrepresented. A total of 15 species are currently bred under collaborative European ex-situ programmes. There is no link between severity of IUCN status and species presence in zoos, and endangered or critically endangered species are not more likely to be found in captivity. These results suggest that species in EAZA zoos have predominantly been chosen due to their appeal to the public, ease of husbandry or other practical and administrative constraints, rather than based on potential benefits for conservation. Addressing the imbalance between the EAZA’s current collection of captive lemur species and the lemur species of conservation priority would lead to better representation of the threatened biodiversity of lemurs under active ex-situ population management, potentially acting as a failsafe against extinction.