Madagascar is in the midst of the worst locust infestation for 60 years. Over half the island is affected and farmers who remember the last plague have given up farming as they know what is about to come. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate that 60% of the country’s residents will be hit with food shortages and hunger as the infestation takes hold. But wildlife habitat in the country is very different today as it was 60 years ago when the locusts last hit and questions need to be asked about whether some species will recover.
Madagascar is home to many endemic species and it has a wealth of unique mammal species but over the last 60 years the habitat has been carved up and fragmented by agriculture and developments. Many highly endangered species such as rare lemurs hang on in habitats that are small and unconnected. These populations are at high risk and with limited connectivity and without wildlife corridors not all of the populations will survive as their food plants are stripped bare by the insects.
With fragmented and unconnected habitats and reserves there will also be limited opportunities for re-population of the reserves once the insects have passed – and that could be sometime away.
The UN FAO estimate it could need a three-year campaign to bring the locusts under control and that’s if the money can be found. The organisation has launched an appeal for $22 million for emergency funding to begin spraying. If the spraying does not begin soon then they estimate that by September over two-thirds of the country will be affected by the locusts.
Madagascar is home to over 30 species of lemurs and many of them are endangered. With dwindling habitat many of the species can be severely impacted by catastrophes such as the locust infestation.
It’s not just the loss of vegetation and fruit that will impact the lemurs. Most lemur species can make adaptions to their normal diet but if hunger in local human populations does become extreme then the risks of bush-meat hunting will accelerate putting even more pressure on the lemurs.
Even before this latest natural disaster the lemurs of Madagascar were under severe pressure and a special meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was called last year to discuss the lemurs. It found that 90% of the species in Madagascar were classed as either critical, endangered or vulnerable. Some of the notable species only have a few hundred left in their populations living in isolated bits of habitat.
Since 1953 over half of the remaining forest cover has been lost on the island. It remains to be seen if enough of the natural environment remains in place for the island to recover from this current natural disaster.
Madagascar is not just known for it’s famous lemurs. It is one of the world’s most impressive biodiversity hotspots but with so much of it’s natural habitat now lost you have to wonder if there will be long-term ecological damage and loss of species caused by this current natural disaster.