Madagascar Rainforest
Daily Environment Repost

King Julien’s disappearing Madagascar rainforest

When the original Madagascar movie came out, I enjoyed watching it with my kids. The penguins were great, but the most unforgettable character was King Julien, the comically narcissistic king of the Lemur nation who loved insulting people to hide his own ignorance (hum…). Unfortunately, King Julien’s rainforest is disappearing from the Island of Madagascar, and along with it, the lemurs are also disappearing.

One is the loneliest number

Lemurs are a group of primates existing only on the Island of Madagascar. The story started over 160 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. Madagascar was not an island at all. It was attached to the African mainland as part of the Gondwanaland supercontinent. During Gondwanaland’s slow-motion breakup, the island parted ways from Africa about 135 million years ago, and it split from India about 88 million years ago.

Currently, paleontological sleuths believe that lemurs first developed about 60 million years ago on the African continent, not long after the demise of the dinosaurs during the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. These early lemur ancestors made their way to Madagascar, where they flourished. By the time monkeys arrived on the evolutionary scene, about 17–23 million years ago, Madagascar was completely isolated. So the Monkeys never landed on its shores, and the lemurs continued to occupy their ecological niche. While lemurs disappeared from the other continents, they remained and thrived in Madagascar.

It was not until several thousand years ago, when Homo sapiens learned to sail, that advanced primates returned to the island. Early humans quickly wiped out at least 15 species of lemurs, mainly the largest and tastiest. Today there are 111 species of lemurs, 51 of which were discovered since 1994. A total of 105 of those species (95%) are at risk of extinction. The current research categorizes 38 species as critically endangered, 44 as endangered, and 23 “vulnerable to extinction.”

Climate change: not the only road to extinction

Climate change will slowly alter the face of the planet. Some ecosystems will disappear, and others will arise as climatic trends shift. These changes will result in the displacement and possibly the extinction of some species. Current predictions are that the lemurs will not have to wait on climate change. Destruction of the Madagascar rainforest habitats may drive them to extinction by 2080. 

About 45 percent of Madagascar’s forest cover has disappeared since 1950. Illegal logging and forest burning for farmland continue taking a toll. Recent modeling indicates that deforestation, along with fluctuating climate, could turn the forests into grasslands and croplands in the next 60 years. 

As usual, science has answers on how to avert this disaster, but hopes are dim that government policy can effectively deal with this ecological problem in poor country engrossed in political turmoil. King Julien is not smiling now.


About The Ring-Tailed Lemur (National Geographic) – Also:

Lemurs of Madagascar ( – Also:

Madagascar’s famous lemurs could lose their rainforest by 2080 (Erica Tennenhouse – National Geographic) – Also:

Those Adorable Lemurs of Madagascar? They are on the Edge of Extinction (Kevin Kelleher – Fortune) – Also:

Lemurs in Crisis: 105 Species Now Threatened with Extinction (John R. Platt – Scientific American) – Also:

Feature Photo: Ring-tailed Lemur (Francis C. Franklin) – (This file has been modified) This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. –

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.