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IMAX movie focuses on lemurs, the most endangered mammal on earth

The movie, narrated by Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, takes audiences on a spectacular journey to the remote and wondrous world of Madagascar. The island nation, the fourth largest in the world and roughly the size of Texas, is the only natural home of lemurs, primates that look like cats crossed with squirrels. But they are also the most endangered mammals in the world.

Ringtail Lemur

Until around 160 million years ago, Madagascar was attached to the African mainland as part of the super continent Gondwanaland, formed of Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, India, and Madagascar. As Gondwanaland broke apart, Madagascar moved away from Africa. The first lemur-like primates in the fossil record appeared roughly 60 million years ago in mainland Africa and crossed over to Madagascar shortly thereafter.

The island continued to drift eastward and by the time monkeys appeared, between 17 and 23 million years ago, Madagascar was isolated from their arrival. Monkeys quickly drove the lemur lineage elsewhere in the world toward extinction but Madagascar's lemurs — isolated from evolutionary changes of the world — radiated into the large island's many niches without much competition or predation.

Now they are in danger of extinction from humans, who have deforested about 90 percent of Madagascar for grazing cattle and farming and hunted lemurs for food after a 2009 coup isolated the island from other countries. Primatologists, including lemur expert Dr. Patricia Wright from SUNY Stony Brook, are working to save the lemurs.

Wright founded the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments, which focuses on research, education, and community outreach with an emphasis on Madagascar, and the Centre ValBio, a conservation and local development organization located right in Madagascar.


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