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Three new lemur species found in Africa

Famed for its lemurs, Madagascar now has three new species of the shy primates after discoveries by scientists exploring the forests there.
Mireya Mayor with a mouse lemur.
Primatologist Mireya Mayor shows off one of the three new species of mouse lemur discovered on Madagascar. The species was named Microcebus mittermeieri.Mark Thiessen / National Geographic Society
/ Source: Reuters

Famed for its lemurs, Madagascar now has three new species of the shy primates.

The three new mouse lemurs were officially named in a paper published in June by the International Journal of Primatology and announced at a conservation conference on Wednesday in the Malagasy capital.

"Finding an entirely new species of lemur living in the wild in the 21st century shows how little we know about our natural world, and how important it is to protect it," said primatologist Mireya Mayor, who discovered one of the new trio while on an expedition in northeast Madagascar.

One of the new species is named Microcebus mittermeieri, or Mittermeier's mouse lemur, after Russell Mittermeier, the president of green group Conservation International and a renowned field primatologist.

Russell A. Mittermeier, President, man, CambodiaConservation International

"Other scientific discoveries come and go, but a new species becomes a permanent part of the scientific record, and will be with us forever," Mittermeier said.

Madagascar is home to over 70 species of lemurs, primitive primates which are distant relations to humanity. They have caught the public imagination in the wake of the animated DreamWorks film "Madagascar".

Lemurs are found only on Madagascar and some neighboring islands and are endangered throughout much of their range on the huge island state, one of the world's poorest countries which has lost much of its forest to slash and burn agriculture.

Mireya Mayor with a mouse lemur. Photo Credit: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic SocietyMark Thiessen

The government has committed itself to tripling the amount of protected space to six million hectares as it attempts to establish itself as a destination for eco-tourists.

Mittermeier's mouse lemur resembles a small, reddish bundle of fluff with huge eyes as it is nocturnal.

The other two new species are Microcebus jollyae (Jolly's mouse lemur), for Alison Jolly, a pioneering lemur researcher from Princeton University, and Microcebus simmonsi (Simmons' mouse lemur), for Dr. Lee Simmons, director of the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska.