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Madagascar Lemurs

This page highlights some of the lemurs of Madagascar
Copyright © HackingFamily.com with photo credits to Amanda Hacking 2007 unless noted.

For reference we used the comprehensive Lemurs of Madagascar (Conservation International - Tropical Field Guide Series) by R Mittermeier Stony Brook, NY. with additional material from the Lonely Planet guide to Madagascar & Comoros.

Our guide Goulam, of Goulam's Lodge at Réserve Spéciale de l'Ankárana was invaluable in helping us spot the animals and tell of their habits.

Northern Sportive Lemur in its tree home
Northern Sportive Lemur in its tree home

Early Arab traders to Madagascar wrote of strange furred animals that flew and their giant cousins whose meat they found delicious.  Sadly, these explorers were the last humans to see either the flying lemur or the giant lemur alive, having hunted them into extinction.  All we can thank those explorers for is the name "lemur" which comes from Latin and means "ghost" referring, probably, to the lemurs' ability to move silently and quickly through the forest in and out of view.  Today, there are 31 remaining live lemur species, many of which are also endangered as their habitat is destroyed and/or they are taken for food or the illegal pet trade.  Fossil records show that as many as 17 lemur species became extinct in the past 1,000 years.

A male Sanford Lemur with black mask
A male Sanford's Lemur with black mask

Lemurs are Primates, but unlike apes and monkeys they are classed in the Suborder Prosimian which includes other tropical animals such as the lorises and tarsiers.  Lemurs had a chance to diversify and develop for 80 to 100 million years in isolation on the island of Madagascar.  They have less developed brains than monkeys (which evolved much more recently) and although they have long tails, these are not prehensile like those of the monkeys, i.e. lemurs cannot wrap their tails around branches and use them like extra arms and legs.  It is lucky for the lemurs of Madagascar that monkeys were not able to cross the Mozambique Channel to the big red island, for monkeys are far more intelligent and aggressive and would have destroyed the chances of lemurs surviving.  Fossil evidence has shown that this has happened on both Africa and Asia in the distant past -- the more recently developed monkeys competing for the same resources as the lemurs led to the extinction of those lemurs.

Today's living lemurs are divided into three families: Lemuridae which includes the typical lemurs and the mouse-lemurs;  Daubentonidae includes only the aye-aye which is an elusive and rarely seen lemur; and Indridae which includes the indris and sifakas.

High in the forest of Montagne d'Ambre in northern Madagascar we spotted a group of lemurs.  Photography is difficult in the low afternoon light of dense rainforest, but Amanda was able to crank the ISO on our digital Canon up to 1,600 to capture this individual who was exposed on a tree branch.

This is probably a female Sanford's Lemur Eulemur Sanfordi with the all black face.  (Notice her tail wrapped around her neck like a fur scarf!)  Male Sanford's Lemurs have black nose and eyes, with white ruff and ears (see photo above, on this page).  Sanford's are medium sized lemurs, with bodies of 38‑40 cm (15‑16") and tails an additional 50‑55 cm (20‑22") but weighing only 1.8 kg (4 lbs).  They live in groups of up to 15 animals and only in northern Madagascar from sea level to 1,400 meters (4,600 feet).  Gestation is 120 days, with births in September and October. Like most other Lemuridae they eat fruits, flowers and other plant parts like buds.  They also sometimes eat spiders and millipedes.  They are endangered due to loss of habitat to logging and mining and being taken illegally as pets.

Female Sanford's Lemur in northern Madagascar
A male Crowned Lemur

This male Crowned Lemur Eulemur coronatus found us just as interesting as we found him, high in his tree in Réserve Spéciale de l'Ankárana in north central Madagascar.  These animals are gray-brown with brown and white faces.  They get their name from the black crown on the male.  Of the Eulemur genus, the coronatus is the smallest, weighing only 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs) with a 35 cm (14 in) body and a tail of 41‑49 cm (16‑19 in).  Crowned Lemurs are “cathemeral” meaning they are active both day and night.  They eat fruit, leaves, pollen and sometimes insects.  These lemurs live from sea level to 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) and are the only lemur to live in the very far north of Madagascar on the Cap d'Ambre Peninsula.  Their habitat is varied, from arid hills to moist rainforest.  Living in groups of 5‑15 individuals, they have a dominant female, like most other lemur groups.

In the wet season, December to May, they are often found mixed with groups of Sanford Lemurs.  We found this to be true even in mid‑October.  The easiest way to tell the 2 lemur species apart when they are frolicking through the trees is that only the Sanfords have white ear tufts and black faces.

The nocturnal Ankárana Sportive Lemur Lepilemur ankaranensis seemed surprisingly alert even during the early morning hours as we hiked through Réserve Spéciale de l'Ankárana in northern Madagascar.  This is one of the smallest of the sportive lemurs with an average body size of 28 cm (11") and a tail of 25 cm (10").  They weigh less than 1kg (2.2 lbs).  They have prominent ears and are light gray-brown, with gray back and pale belly.  They tend to keep a very vertical posture (very koala-like!) except when curled in their holes in the trees where they sleep.  The field guides say that they are very active and acrobatic but that must be at night, when they are truly awake.  We mainly saw them in their holes or clinging quietly to a tree trunk.  But even though they are active, they still only range over an area of about 1 hectare.  They are found in dry lowland forests such as Réserve Spéciale de l'Ankárana and also the moist forest of Montagne d’Ambre, both in northern Madagascar.

The Ankárana Sportive Lemurs are prey to Madagascar ground boa constrictors which hunt them in their sleeping sites in trees.  This lemur's habitat is threatened by charcoal production (cutting the forest and burning) and from hunting (they are taken by humans for food).

Ankarana Sportive Lemur, in typical upright position
Ruffed Lemur The Ruffed Lemur Varecia variegata wears a stunning coat of white and black, with white fringe (tufts) around the black face.  With its relatively long snout it is able to retrieve nectar from flowers.  This diurnal (day-active) lemur is 45‑55 cm (18‑22") with a 60‑65 cm (23‑25") tail.  It can be seen at Réserve de Nosy Mangabe in lowland, eastern Madagascar.  (Photo courtesy of French friends)  
  In the forests of northeastern Madagascar live the White Fronted Brown Lemurs Eulemur fulvus albifrons, a subspecies of the Brown Lemur.  The male of this species has a white head with fluffy cheeks and a black muzzle.  The female (right) has gray to dark brown chest and belly, with a brown back and dark gray head and muzzle.  These lemurs are about 40‑43 cm (16‑17") with a 50‑55 cm (20‑22") tail.  They are arboreal and eat primarily fruit.  (Photo courtesy of French friends) A female White Fronted Brown Lemur
A male Black Lemur held as a pet, Madagascar Beautiful and tragic at the same time -- we found this male Black Lemur Eulemur macaco (left) held as a pet in a home in Honey River, on the west coast of Madagascar.  Black lemurs show great sexual dimorphism (meaning the males and females look different).  Males, such as this one are all black or very dark brown with bright orange‑red eyes.  Females (right) have a more chestnut coloration, with a dark gray face, and, most distinctive, they have fluffy white ear and cheek tufts, which fade to ginger color on the cheeks.  These lemurs live in northwestern Madagascar on the mainland, and also on the islands of Nosy Be and Nosy Komba.  On Nosy Be they live in a protected park, Réserve Spéciale de Lokobe, and on neighboring Nosy Komba they are protected by the villagers who have a taboo ("fady") against harming or capturing them.  Black Lemurs are fairly large, measuring about 90‑110 cm (35‑43") with tails that add another 55‑65 cm (22‑26").  They are endangered due to habitat loss and capture for the pet trade. A female Black Lemur, on Nosy Komba, Madagascar
Northern Brown Mouse Lemur The Northern Brown Mouse Lemur Microcebus tavarata is one of the smallest lemurs of Madagascar.  It weighs only about 50 grams.  Its body is 12‑14 cm (4.5‑5.5") with 15 cm (6") tail.  It is found in the north of Madagascar in arid deciduous forest and limestone pinnacles (tsingy) such as in Réserve Spéciale de l'Ankárana where we photographed this one.  Their habitat is threatened by illegal logging, sapphire mining, brush fires and deforestation for charcoal production.

To spot a nocturnal lemur you hold a flashlight (torch) at your eye level and shine it around through the bushes.  The large eyes of the lemur will shine back at you, as they do in this flash photo.

  Fluffy, big, and bright-eyed, 2 Indri Indri indri peer out of their protective branches.  Members of the family Indriidae, the Indris are distinctive with their black and white fur, tiny tails, and black faces.  They are the largest living lemur, at 64‑90 cm (2‑3 feet) with a very small (5 cm or 2") tail.  They live on plant parts such as leaves and buds, and sometimes fruits and flowers.  They are capable of jumping vertically 10 meters (33 feet) up into the trees.  Indri are diurnal (active in the day) and are best seen in northeastern Madagascar, especially at Parc National d'Andasibe-Mantadia.  Their habitat is declining due to agriculture, burning and general deforestation.  (Photo courtesy of French friends) Indris in the trees, Madagascar
Coquerels Sifaka, Madagascar Brilliant against the green trees and blue sky, Coquerel's Sifaka Propithecus verreauxi coquereli live in northwestern Madagascar.  These sifakas are unmistakable with their pure white bodies offset with deep maroon thigh, arm and check patches.  Sifakas change their diet to match the season, eating mainly mature leaves and buds in the dry season, and young leaves, fruits and flowers in the wet season.  They are primarily arboreal.  Habitat destruction endangers them, as well as hunting.  They measure 90‑110 cm (35‑43"), including a 50‑60 cm (20‑24") tail.  (Photo courtesy of French friends)  

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