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Lemurs Leap Onto The Big Screen In New Documentary

A new documentary film out in IMAX theaters introduces us to the world of lemurs. The tree-dwelling primates are one of our closest ancestors and only live in Madagascar.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar,” shows us the lives of lemurs and those who research them. Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with two of the people behind the film, screenwriter Drew Fellman and primatologist Dr. Patricia Wright.

Interview Highlights

Drew Fellman on the story behind Madagascar’s lemurs

“The leading theory about how lemurs ended up in Africa, was that a very small population of them rafted from mainland Africa to Madagascar about 60 million years ago. They were one of the first mammals, one of the earliest mammals and the earliest primate. … What we think happened was there was some sort of massive storm that blew a significant chunk of land out to sea. This could have been several square kilometers. … When they landed in Madagascar, they found this island that’s larger than California. It’s about the size of Texas or France. And there were no other mammals living in Madagascar at all. There were no other birds, and there were no predators.”

Dr. Patricia Wright on the ‘amazing’ variety of lemurs – more than 100 species

“First of all you have the smallest, which is the mouse lemur — fits in the palm of your hand. And there’s many species of them, but they’re the ones that also, in addition to berries and small fruits, they eat insects and frogs and live prey.”

“At the top of the scale is the indri, which is the size of a medium-sized dog. It’s amazing, it can leap. It just makes me cry every time I see them make those extraordinary leaps… And then their songs! Every morning they get up and do these songs, which basically say, ‘Good morning! Here I am! It’s going to be a good day.’”

“There are 17 species that are extinct, some of them as large as gorillas. And I wanted to see if this one was going to join the ranks… I also found a new species to science. And then when the timber exporters came in, I realized I wouldn’t be able to study them and find out what they do unless I protected the area where they came from.”

Fellman on threats to the lemurs

“Probably the largest threat to lemurs today is habitat loss. People came to Madagascar about 2,000 years ago from Borneo, over the sea, and brought with them a culture of fire, and have been practicing slash and burn agriculture ever since they arrived. For a long time, there was plenty of land to go around in Madagascar. But the population of Madagascar now is over 20 million people, and 90 percent of the forests have been burned down.”

Wright on protecting lemur habitat

“There certainly is hope for the lemurs. And also the politics now are getting more on track, and we’re hoping that we can not only protect the ones in the parks that we have, but we can also expand those parks. Right now there’s the national park service, but we’re also hoping to expand that and increase the number of protected areas with the help of the communities.”


[Youtube]

Guests

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lemurs live in the wild only in Madagascar. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
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Lemurs live in the wild only in Madagascar. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
Dr. Patricia 
Wright is an American 
primatologist, 
anthropologist, and 
conservationist. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
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Dr. Patricia Wright is an American primatologist, anthropologist, and conservationist. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
Lemurs are tree dwelling primates. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
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Lemurs are tree dwelling primates. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
The Greater Bamboo Lemur is the largest species of bamboo lemur. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
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The Greater Bamboo Lemur is the largest species of bamboo lemur. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
Ring-tailed lemurs are the most intensely studied of all the lemurs: they are also the most easily recognizable lemur and the most common in captivity. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
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Ring-tailed lemurs are the most intensely studied of all the lemurs: they are also the most easily recognizable lemur and the most common in captivity. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
Tsaranoro Mountain in Madagascar (Warner Bros./IMAX)
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Tsaranoro Mountain in Madagascar (Warner Bros./IMAX)
In Madagascar, gray mouse lemurs are sometimes sighted in gardens and roadside brush. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
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In Madagascar, gray mouse lemurs are sometimes sighted in gardens and roadside brush. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
The Sifaka of Madagascar are distinguished from other lemurs by their mode of locomotion: these animals maintain a distinctly vertical posture and leap through the trees using just the strength of their back legs. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
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The Sifaka of Madagascar are distinguished from other lemurs by their mode of locomotion: these animals maintain a distinctly vertical posture and leap through the trees using just the strength of their back legs. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
The Verreaux’s Sifaka does not need to drink water and can survive severe drought by eating the bark and cambium of the spiny, cactus-like plants, Operculicarya decaryi. (Warner Bros./IMAX)
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The Verreaux’s Sifaka does not need to drink water and can survive severe drought by eating the bark and cambium of the spiny, cactus-like plants, Operculicarya decaryi. (Warner Bros./IMAX)