Grantee Spotlight: Alison Jolly Lemur Conservation Grant 2016
Climate Change, Coups, and Critically Endangered Species: First Aerial Drone Surveys of Madagascar’s Lemurs
Critically endangered golden-crowned sifakas are found only in northern Madagascar. Traditional walking surveys in 2006/2008 suggested that at least 18,000 remained. Madagascar’s 2009 coup brought increased habitat loss and hunting across the species’ habitat while climate change continues to pose an additional, less tangible threat to the species’ persistence. We sought to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to update habitat maps and to assess their use for long-term sifaka monitoring. Walking transects also were conducted for comparison against UAV surveys.
Local guides facilitated walking surveys in five forest fragments. Unfortunately, evidence of lemur hunting was not uncommon, and our guides (local forest guardians) had to leave early one day to bring two poachers to the police. Our limited pilot season suggests that the current population size is closer to 11,500 individuals with an upper limit of 18,700. This represents a 36% population decline in the last 10 years. Sifakas were not disturbed by UAV flights (we feared the sifakas would think that UAVs were predatory hawks and flee!). While we could identify sifakas from the air, technological challenges prevented additional field-testing. More extensive surveys will take place in 2017, and we will work with local stakeholders to improve anti-poaching efforts.