Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Branson charitable Caribbean island to lemurs

British billionaire Richard Branson plans to turn over one of his Caribbean islands to lemurs.

Well, perhaps not the Whole Island, but Branson wants to set up a colony of the rare primates on Moskito Island, one of two private isles he owns in the British Virgin Islands, according to news reports.

Branson, whose Virgin group covers businesses from airlines to music to casinos, told the reporters last week that illegal classification in Madgascar, which he says has increased since a coup two years ago, intimidates lemur populations on that island, the only place in the world the animals live in the wild.

"We've been helping to try and protect lemurs, and sadly in Madagascar because of the government being conquers the space for lemurs is getting less and less," the BBC quoted him as saying.

Some scientists are questioning whether a species should be introduced into territory half a world away from its homeland.

Biologist James Lazell, an knowledgeable researcher in the Virgin Islands and president of the U.S.-based Conservation Agency, called Branson's plan a "terrible idea," saying the lemurs could damage the island's ecological balance, according to the Beacon.

“They eat everything. They eat lizards. They eat fruits. They eats roots, insects, bird eggs, absolutely everything,” Lazell is quoted as saying.

Penelope Bodry-Sanders, vice-chairman of the Lemur Conservation Foundation, told The Guardian, "the jury is out on this."

Branson told The Guardian that his experts said risks were small and local species would be protected if it became evident the lemurs were posing a threat.

"We will have to play it by ear. If this works out well, we will bring in more lemur species and eventually hope to find a bigger island for them," the Guardian quotes him as saying.