Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire head of the Virgin Group of companies, is planning to establish a controversial reserve for threatened ringtailed lemurs on a 124-acre island he owns in the Caribbean, about 8,000 miles away from primates’ native Madagascar.
Branson, who has been involved in other projects to protect endangered species, says efforts to protect the lemur on Madagascar have been hampered by rampant deforestation, and he hopes an island colony on Moskito — an island he bought for Â£10 million ($16 million) in 2007 — will provide a “safe haven” for the species. “We brought in experts from South Africa to Moskito Island and they said it would be perfect,” Branson told the Guardian, saying that if lemurs thrived there they could eventually be reintroduced on Madagascar. While British Virgin Islands officials have approved the transport of 15 lemurs from zoos in Canada, Sweden, and South Africa to Moskito, some wildlife experts have warned that the potential harm of introducing lemurs to a new environment could outweigh the benefits. Others have reserved judgment for now. “It could be a brilliant or terrible idea but we just don’t know yet,” said Penelope Bodry-Sanders, founder of the Florida-based Lemur Conservation Foundation.