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15 - Lemur Hunting in Madagascar’s Present and Past

The Case of Pachylemur

from Part III - Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 August 2022

Bernardo Urbani
Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research
Dionisios Youlatos
Aristotle University, Thessaloniki
Andrzej T. Antczak
Universiteit Leiden
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Pachylemur is a large extinct lemur once widespread on Madagascar that survived in pockets until at least 500 years ago. The role of humans as agents of megafaunal extinction on Madagascar is heavily debated. Here we evaluate human impacts drawing from research on lemur hunting today combined with evidence from Madagascar’s oral history as well as its archaeological and paleontological records. Living lemurs are hunted throughout Madagascar, primarily for subsistence but also for commercial trade. Wildlife consumption is driven primarily by poverty and resultant food insecurity. Protected status, wildlife consumption taboos, and broad preference for domestic meats appear insufficient to buffer most lemur taxa from extinction at current harvest rates in the Makira region, if not elsewhere. Single-factor explanations for megafaunal extinction, such as rapid overkill or climate change, are not viable. There was long temporal overlap for Pachylemur and humans on Madagascar. There was no island-wide drought when the megafauna began to crash around 1,200 years ago; some parts of Madagascar were unusually wet while others were unusually dry. Stable isotope (δ15N) values for radiocarbon-dated Pachylemur bones also show no evidence that aridification contributed to its demise. Butchered bones of Pachylemur from the paleontological site Tsirave spike in frequency just over 1,000 years ago, indicative of sustained exploitation over a ~100-year period. Pachylemur shared many traits with its closest living relative, variegated lemurs (Varecia), including frugivory. Oral histories of an animal presumed to be Pachylemur indicate it dwelt in the largest trees in the forest, was active at twilight, and exhibited highly aggressive antipredator behavior. Like Varecia, Pachylemur was likely dependent on large, patchily distributed trees for fruit, and possibly also for reproduction (e.g. to nest and stash non-clinging young), making it especially vulnerable to habitat degradation. We thus conclude that both habitat degradation and hunting played a role in the extinction of Pachylemur.

Key words

Bushmeat, Lemurs, Extinction, Pachylemur, Varecia, Subfossils

World Archaeoprimatology
Interconnections of Humans and Nonhuman Primates in the Past
, pp. 393 - 416
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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