A Temple scientist recently took it upon herself to provide a voice for the endangered lemurs of Madagascar that are illegally kept in captivity.
Earlier last month Kim Reuter, a Temple doctoral candidate in the biology department and Fellow Researcher at the Betty and Gordon Moore Center of Science and Oceans at Conservation International in Washington D.C., published her research about lemur ownership in Madagascar.
Her research and findings appeared in Oryx, a scientific conservation journal, where the research quickly gained national attention.
“It’s great to see two years of blood, sweat and tears come to fruition,” Reuter said of her published work.
Haley Randell, a Temple graduate who is currently working to attain a master’s degree in sustainable solutions at Arizona State University, worked alongside Reuter in Madagascar and is a co-author of the research.
“I’m a big stickler for citations, and I think it will be the coolest thing to get cited in another scientist’s paper,” Randell said.
After Reuter completed her undergraduate degree at Florida State University, she applied for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program through the National Science Foundation. She was selected for the fellowship, and Reuter was free to use her awarded funds to conduct a research project of her choosing.
Because she previously spent time in Africa and Madagascar, Reuter had seen several different accounts of domestic lemur ownership, which she knew to be illegal.
Having been aware of international lemur conservation efforts, through which considerable sums of money are spent in hope of preserving future prosperity for the species, Reuter wondered why such behavior went unnoticed.
“Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this?” Reuter asked herself.
So she did something about it.
Reuter decided to use her funds to conduct a study of lemur ownership and of the lemur pet trade in Madagascar. For three months of Summer 2013, she led a research team of seven people in the island nation, which lies just off the coast of Southeast Africa.
Reuter spoke to over 1,000 native Malagasy people in the northern part of Madagascar, asking each citizen about their knowledge of lemur ownership. Often, Reuter and her team would nomadically roam from village to village as to find populations to interview. Reuter and her team once got lost while navigating through the country.
“We ended up hiking for like 10 hours,” Reuter said. “We were essentially dead. Our feet were bleeding.”
Upon arriving in a given village, Reuter said she would ask to meet with the village’s president in order to gain permission to speak with the inhabitants. Upon gaining trust – which was crucial for her research – she and her team would engage with people.
Because possessing a lemur in Madagascar is illegal, the research team had to approach each question carefully as to promote accurate findings.
“We would say, ‘Have you ever seen a captive or pet lemur?’ and we would broadly define a pet lemur as a lemur that looks like it was owned by someone,” Reuter said. “We never specifically asked people if they had personally owned a lemur, but 32 people self-identified as owners.”
Upon collecting and quantifying the data, Reuter found that from 2010 to mid-2013, roughly 28,000 lemurs had been held in captivity.
The conclusions quantified her curiosity about lemur ownership as she uncovered that the problem is significant in Madagascar.
Reuter’s co-author, Randell, also found the research to be an important part of a larger effort to protect this species from extinction.
“Although I think it’s just a drop of water in a lake, this research is another piece of the puzzle that is lemur conservation,” Randell said.
Fueled by the desire to protect this species, Reuter now leads two lemur conservation projects. Along with Melissa Schaefer of the University of Utah, she created Citizen Science: Pet Lemurs in Madagascar, a project that intends to keep track of lemur ownership in Madagascar.
Reuter is also teaming with the International Union for Conservation of Nature and nearly 100 other scientists and organizations to create the Lemur Conservation Network, set to launch next month, that intends to act as unifying platform to connect any and everyone working to conserve the lemur population. She is the Director of Outreach and Content for the network.
More than science and more than an occupation, Reuter actively advocates for the dwindling lemur population as a service for future generations.
“I do my research because I really care,” Reuter said. “I really want conservation initiatives and policy to be better about lemurs.”
Finnian Saylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org