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Madagascar Gets Biggest Lemur Park

This red-ruffed lemur is one of the largest primates of Madagascar with a body length of 20 inches (53 centimeters), a tail length of 24 inches (60 cm) and a weight of up to 9 pounds (4 kilograms).

Good news for lemurs: Officials in Madagascar have created the island's biggest protected wildlife park. Named Makira Natural Park, the area is larger than the state of than the state of Rhode Island, and it provides a habitat for the highest diversity of lemurs on the planet, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced.

The park stretches over 1,438 square miles (372,470 hectares) of rainforest in northeastern Madagascar and contains 20 of the island’s 103 lemur species, including the red-ruffed lemur and the silky sifaka, WCS officials said. Lemurs, found only in Madagascar, were recently named the most endangered group of vertebrates on Earth. Along with lorises and bushbabies, lemurs belong to a group called prosimian primates, defined as all primates that are neither monkeys nor apes.

Makira Natural Park also will protect some less cuddly creatures, including the Madagascar serpent eagle and the island's only large predator, the cat-like fossa, which eats lemurs and needs large areas of intact forest to maintain healthy populations, WCS said.

Officials estimated that the new park combined with Madagascar's nearby Masoala National Park and the rest of the Antongil Bay watershed make up the island’s richest region in terms of biodiversity.

"This is truly a landmark in Madagascar’s ongoing commitment to protect its natural heritage," Cristián Samper, WCS president and CEO, said in a statement. "Makira Natural Park now represents the center of biodiversity conservation for the nation."