FOUR endangered lemurs have arrived at Chester Zoo as part of an international breeding programme.

Known as one of the world's rarest primate species, the crowned lemurs moved to the UK from Montpellier Zoo in France after being carefully matched up by conservationists.

The two males, one-year-old Hajao and 19-year-old Rak plus two females, two-year-old Ilo and Pia, 20, will share their new habitat in Chester with two other species of lemur – red ruffed and ring-tailed.

It is hoped that experts will eventually be able to breed the species which is in major decline in the wild.

Chester Zoo’s collections director Mike Jordan said: “After overcoming their initial nervousness, crowned lemurs Hajao, Rak, Ilo and Pia have settled well into their new home and are getting along famously with their bolshie neighbours – a group of ring-tailed lemurs and five red ruffed lemurs.

“As with the vast majority of lemur species, crowned lemur numbers in Madagascar are in decline and, through carefully coordinated international breeding programmes, zoos are playing a vital role in creating a safely-net population as the species tinkers on the edge of extinction.”

Crowned lemurs, like all species of lemur, are native to Madagascar and live in forests at the northern tip of the island where their wild number is estimated to be less than 10,000.

Large-scale habitat loss across Madagascar continues to be the biggest factor in the decline of the species while the lemurs are also being hunted for food, with a number known to have been killed to serve a luxury restaurant trade.

The team at Chester Zoo is working with field partners Madagasikara Voakajy in the country’s Mangabe New Protected Area, in a bid to protect the forests which are home to thousands of unique species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.