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Sir Richard Branson’s eco-resort plan raises alarm over non-native lemurs

Andrea Divirgilio / April 20, 2011

sir richard branson island of moskito

Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who was widely applauded for his new Virgin Oceanic project, seems to be in some trouble this time. The founder of the Virgin Group had plans to create a colony of lemurs on the 170-acre Caribbean island of Moskito, part of his 60-strong British Virgin Islands. He cited that he had bought the island to create “the most ecologically friendly island in the world.” But now, his lemur relocation plan has stirred a controversy, as conservation scientists think that the relocation could prove disastrous to native wildlife.

They are accusing the Virgin billionaire for threatening the island’s fragile ecology by planning to import non-native lemurs. They out their point forth and said that the lemurs, which live on the African island of Madagascar, will bring in disease, eat insects and birds’ eggs, destroy plants and annihilate the island’s “dwarf gecko,” one of the world’s rarest lizards.

On the other hand, Richard’s team says that the lemurs will come from zoos and won’t create any problem for the island’s native animals. Sir Richard told BBC News…

Here on Moskito Island we’ve got a beautiful rainforest – we brought in experts from South Africa, and they say it would be an absolutely perfect place where lemurs can be protected and breed.

The lemurs in the plan are the ring-tailed and the red ruffed, both of which are on the Red List of Threatened Species.

What scientists have to say…

Simon Stuart of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission said…

Maybe [He] has got some people to say it is all right – but what else lives on the island, and how might they be affected. It’s pretty weird – I would be alarmed about it and would want some reassurances.

Christoph Schwitzer, who co-ordinates the Madagascar work of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group, said…

The project would only be acceptable if he intended to keep them in a controlled environment – that is, in some kind of fenced-in enclosure where they cannot become a problem to the native fauna and flora.

Dr James Lazell, a, biologist and president of the US-based Conservation Agency said…

Lemurs are agile, dexterous, aggressive, omnivorous animals that could have a detrimental effect on these simple island ecologies. They eat absolutely everything – lizards, fruit, roots, insects, birds’ eggs.

Dr Lianna Jarecki, an environmentalist at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College on Tortola, said…

Introducing lemurs to Moskito poses potentially grave environmental problems…Sir Richard would try to replace this with an artificial rainforest ecosystem.

What Sir Richard Branson says…

The lemur’s rainforest habitat is under threat on Madagascar. We want to create a second island habitat and the conditions on Moskito are perfect.

They will be fully inoculated, so disease will not be a problem, and we will nurture them, with vets on hand if they have any health problems.

Sir Branson has already been granted permission to bring in about 30 ring-tailed lemurs, and the first group is to arrive shortly. Let’s see if he gets to relocate the endangered primate to his pristine island.

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