We call for urgent action to increase government effectiveness in fighting Madagascar's illegal trade in live lemurs (see go.nature.com/2i6hvor). More funding is needed to investigate the issue, its extent and the factors behind it. Facilities to rehabilitate confiscated lemurs must be improved, and more international non-governmental organizations should contribute.

Exploitation is pushing species such as the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) towards extinction in the wild. Thousands of lemurs are kept openly as illegal pets. Touching and feeding the animals is common to encourage tourists, even in protected areas — despite a law forbidding human contact with lemurs in those areas.

Environmental degradation is costing Madagascar up to 10% of its gross domestic product. A sapphire rush last year resulted in 45,000 miners digging in its protected areas. Organized poaching is decimating its sea-turtle populations, and the illegal pet trade is set to wipe out the last 100 wild ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora). The country's weak opposition to the illegal export of rosewood may cause it to face new sanctions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

It is time for the government to enforce its own laws and put Madagascar's unique heritage above short-term financial gains.