Black-and-white ruffed lemurs sit on a branch in their enclosure at the Tierpark Friedrichsfelde zoo in Berlin on June 15, 2010. The animals are native to the rainforests of Madagascar. (AFP PHOTO BARBARA SAX)
LONDON - A playful pair of critically endangered white-belted ruffed lemurs have arrived in the British city of Chester, to be matched up in a bid to help save the species from extinction.
The duo have been paired up by match-making conservationists as part of a breeding program for the species whose number has decreased dramatically by more than 80 percent in their homeland of Madagascar over just two decades. The matchmakers have paired a male Andry and a female Loky in the hope that love will be in the air.
The lemurs, which can only be found on the island of Madagascar, are one of the world's rarest primates. There has been a sharp decline in their size in recent years.
Because of habitat destruction caused by human activities like farming, logging, mining and hunting, the population of lemurs has fallen by more than 80 percent over the past 21 years.
As a result, the lemurs are listed as "Critically Endangered" on the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
"Andry and Loky have settled in really well with their playful neighbors, a group of ring-tailed lemurs. They both have bold personalities and are getting along famously. They can often be seen leaping through trees and vocalizing to one another," said Dr. Nick Davis, a mammal and primatology expert at Chester Zoo.
"These stunning animals have undergone a sharp decline in the wild, with their numbers hitting rock bottom. We've taken the decision to play a vital role in ensuring their continued survival, in case the worst should happen: extinction in the wild," he added.
In addition, he claimed that Chester Zoo had cooperated with Madagasikara Voakajy, an environmental organization in Madagascar, to engage with local communities and persuade them that the forests and the animals living there are worth protecting.
Madagascar, an island with high biodiversity, ranks at or near the top of the world's biodiversity hotspots. Conservationists from Chester, a town in northwest England, are working to protect the forests providing habitats for thousands of endemic species in Madagascar.