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Page last updated at 09:44 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 10:44 UK
Lemurs butchered in Madagascar
Jody Bourton
Earth reporter

A golden-crowned sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli)
Hanging on, the golden-crowned sifaka

Shocking pictures of slaughtered lemurs killed for bush meat have been released by Conservation International.

A breakdown in law and order due to the recent coup in Madagascar has resulted in poachers killing lemurs for profit.

The dead lemurs are sold to restaurant owners seeking to serve new delicacies, says the conservation group.

It fears this upsurge in the bush meat trade may have been triggered by the suspension of conservation aid by international bodies during the coup.

The slaughter of these delightful, gentle and unique animals is simply unacceptable
Lemur expert Dr Russ Mittermeier

The graphic pictures taken by local non-government organisation Fanamby and released by Conservation International show hoards of crowned lemurs (Eulemur coronatus) and the golden crowned sifaka, (Propithecus tattersalli) that have been trapped and killed.

The crowned lemurs are considered a threatened species, while the golden crowned sifaka is even rarer, being considered endangered.

The lemurs affected are from the Daraina area, a new protected region in the far north of Madagascar.

Shot then smoked

Conservation International reports that Madagascar's unique wildlife is being targeted by gangs who are taking advantage of the lack of law and order due to the recent coup.

Smoked lemur corpses
A delicacy for some

Since March 2009 there have been many instances of environmental crimes in one of the world's most important biodiversity hotspots.

Illegal logging in protected parks and the collection of animals for the pet trade has been reported.

Now the first evidence has emerged since the coup of the hunting and sale of lemurs for bush meat.

Poachers use traps and slingshots to catch and kill the animals, which they then smoke for easy transport.

Authorities on the island have already arrested 15 people in connection with hunting lemurs.

"What is happening to the biodiversity of Madagascar is truly appalling, and the slaughter of these delightful, gentle and unique animals is simply unacceptable," says Dr Russ Mittermeier, the president of Conservation International and one of the world's foremost lemur experts.

Crowned lemurs (Eulemur coronatus)
A crowned lemur, less rare but no less valuable

"Given the very limited ranges, the sifaka could easily be eliminated by such poaching," he says.

Dr Mittermeier also voiced concern about the wider impact such activities may have.

"The poaching of lemurs can increase the 'taste' for lemurs and result in an increase of the illegal hunting of this animal, especially if the market for them grows," he explains.

"More than anything else these poachers are killing the goose that laid the golden egg, wiping out the very animals that people most want to see, and undercutting the country and especially local communities by robbing them of future ecotourism revenue."

Conservation plea

After the recent coup earlier this year many international bodies including the World Bank and the US government suspended conservation and development aid to the island.

Conservation International believes that this has weakened environmental governance in the country and provided the right conditions for these types of incidences to occur.

Dr Mittermeier calls for the international community to review their policy and help the conservation efforts in Madagascar as soon as possible.

"The problem of illegal killing of lemurs in Madagascar will only be solved when authorities act and are empowered. Also, the big donor agencies, the United States and Europe need to reinstate funding for conservation activities there immediately, or the advances of the past 25 years will forever be lost."

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