Branson forced to wait out lemur conservation plans

Posted on May 8, 2011

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Sir Richard Branson’s pie in the sky idea to import lemurs from breeding zoos around the world and release them on a pristine island in the Caribbean has been put on hold…..again!

Good intentions aside, conservationists will no doubt be breathing a huge sigh of relief at this latest news, which whipped up quite a storm even for the Caribbean. Stage one was delayed after some of the lemurs had fallen pregnant and now it seems the billionaire entrepreneur has finally had the epiphany we’ve all been waiting for. More long-term study!!

Ringtailed lemur (Lemur catta)

Ringtailed lemur (Lemur catta)

In a letter to Virgin Islands’ Platinum News, Branson said he’s prepared to wait for further studies to be carried out on the possible effects the animals’ introduction could have on the natural fauna and flora of the island of Moskito in the British Virgin Islands. However I get the feeling he has no idea how long studies can take to carry out.

He said: “Our aim is to save endangered species and I would hate to be responsible for potentially damaging another species. I will keep the lemurs enclosed whilst we get experts to conduct further surveys on geckos and particularly the dwarf geckos.”

But local conservationists are still opposed to lemurs being brought onto the island in the first place, regardless of whether they’re kept enclosed or not. Trish Baily, a resident of the British Virgin Islands and an environmental campaigner, told the Daily Telegraph: “I still don’t get why Sir Richard is being so persistent because no one has done the studies of what the lemurs will eat on the island.

“What if they eat the seeds and native vegetation that is the energy source of local birds and particularly migratory birds that move through the islands? We have enough exotic species on these islands. We need to control them and bring back our own unique biodiversity.”

Lemurs are indigenous to the island of Madagascar, 8,000 miles away off the east coast of Africa. Their habitat is under threat from deforestation and illegal logging. It’s thought that at least 17 species have already become extinct. Sir Richard’s light-bulb moment of introducing 30 ring-tailed lemurs  (Lemur catta) to the island of Moskito came after ‘ his experts’ told him it would be a perfect way to protect the primates and help them to breed. Anyone else wondering what sort of experts he consulted?

Many of you who have already commented on my previous posts about Branson’s plans and have all suggested that he just buy a part of Madagascar and keep it protected, which would be a hell of a lot simpler. Apparently his experts from Africa told him that Moskito’s dense, tropical palm canopy was a “perfect” habitat for lemurs. “Since they dislike swimming, there was no danger of them leaving the island,” he said. Yes because those really are the only two factors you need to consider when thinking about changing the biodiversity chain in another ecological environment.

Dr James Lazell a biologist with The Conservation Agency in Rhode Island said lemurs are predators and pose a serious threat to several endemic species of lizard on the island: “Lemurs are voracious. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to introduce a new species like the lemur into a pristine environment like Moskito. There is nothing like them that has ever lived on these islands.”

Verreaux's sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi)

He also pointed out problems which arose when another non native species was brought from Indian to the British Virgin Island of Tortola. The mongoose was initially introduced to control the rat population, but it’s now considered a pest on Tortola and is blamed for the extinction of several species of reptile there.

The rare dwarf gecko (sphaerodactylus parthenopion) is said to be at particular risk from the lemurs. It’s the world’s smallest lizard, and is only on Moskito and the neighbouring island of Virgin Gorda. The other species of lemurs he plans to import in the future  include the sifaka ( see photo: and one of the Northerner’s favourites)  both the black, and red ruffed species.

Mr. Branson bought the 125-acre Moskito Island  for $30 million in 2007. The island is currently undeveloped although Branson has said he may build several small homes “for friends” away from where the lemurs will roam. Dear God, let’s just hope the plan doesn’t get that far.

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