ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Eco-tourism combined with increased conservation efforts may be the best hope for Madagascar's critically endangered lemurs, a research team says.
The creatures -- the world's most threatened primate -- are unique to the island nation but their numbers have declined dramatically in recent years, largely due to habitat loss from illegal logging.
The international research team, writing in the journal Science, has proposed utilizing the attraction Madagascar's unique lemurs provide for tourists to help both the animals and poor rural communities.
Tourists still flock to the island despite the political instability in Madagascar following a coup in 2009, said Christoph Schwitzer from the Bristol Zoological Society in Britain, who has been working in Madagascar for more than a decade.
"There's always a tradeoff between the destruction caused by too many tourists and the money they bring to the country that can be used for wildlife conservation," he told the BBC.
"This balance for Madagascar is still very positive for conservation and it's a long way until it may tip over."
Conservationists urging eco-tourism as a solution point to success stories in Rwanda and Uganda, where visitors have shown a willingness to pay to observe endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
A survival plan for Madagascar lemurs that combines tourism with increased conservation efforts could be put in place for $7.6 million, the researchers said.
"We have the people, we have the place, we have the ideas, we are just just lacking funding," Schwitzer, who with colleagues has run a field station in Madagascar for a decade, said.