160 million years ago Madagascar separated from the super continent of Gondwanaland, and forged its own evolutionary path. Today, 80 per cent of its wildlife is found nowhere else on earth, including the iconic lemurs, stars of the recent Attenborough BBC series. There are over 90 lemur species – some so tiny they fit in a match box and others that can leap a full ten metres. Many are endangered species, threatened by farming, the clearing of forests for fire wood and hunting. Here are some of my favourites.
Indri – the ‘panda bear’ lemur
The largest of the surviving lemurs, the cuddly Indri is about the size of a female chimp. Almost tail-less, they have piercing green eyes and are best known for their eerie whale-like calls, which can carry for up to 3km. You can only see them in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (Perinet/Analamazaotra), their Malagasy rainforest home, as they don’t survive in captivity.
Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur – the Kylie Minogue of the lemur world
The smallest primate in the world, weighing only 30 grams, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is probably the cutest. This star of the lemur world is strictly nocturnal and can be found in the Kirindy Forest, north of Morondava, an area also famed for its bountiful baobabs.
Ringtail lemur – Madagascar’s WAG Pack
Madagascar’s trademark and national mammal, Ringtails hang out in large matriarchal groups, squabble regularly but defend their patch together with gusto. The most ground-based of all the lemurs, their distinctive ‘Davy Crocket’ tails make them easy to identify. They are widespread across the sub-arid South of Madagascar. See them in Berenty, Isalo and Andringitra National Parks, Ifotaka and Anjaha.
Coquerel’s sifaka – the Strictly Come Dancing lemur
Sifakas come in a number of variations and all are endearing and acrobatic. Although almost completely arboreal, living and moving through the trees, their long legs and tails help them to gracefully ‘dance’ across open spaces. Coquerel’s sifika is critically endangered but commonly seen at Ankarafantsika National Park (Ampijoroa) and at Anjajavy.
Eastern lesser bamboo lemur – the gentle lemur
The best known of the Bamboo or Gentle lemur family, unsurprisingly the Eastern lesser mostly eats bamboo. These have been the most heavily hunted lemurs in Madagascar, often kept in captivity as pets, and now have a conservation status of ‘vulnerable’. Whilst on your Madagascar holiday, you can see them in the wild in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (Perinet/Analamazaotra) and Ranomafana.
Aye Aye – the gremlin of Madagascar’s forests
The Aye Aye epitomizes all that is fascinating about Madagascar’s unique wildlife. This secretive nocturnal inhabitant of the Malagasy rainforests looks as if it is composed of random body parts: a fox’s tail, bat ears, rodent incisors, and remarkable tarantula-like hands. See the Aye Aye in the uninhabited island reserve of Nosy Mangabe, Ambaniala (near Maroantsetra), and even in Perinet.
Red ruffed – the best dressed lemur
This large and extremely vociferous lemur has a strikingly luxuriant red and black pelage, and wins the accolade of ‘best dressed’ lemur. Perhaps a little blousy, our flamboyant friend prioritises its grooming routine, and that of its friends, using its toothcomb like front teeth. You’ll have to visit the Masoala National Park, in the northeast corner of Madagascar to see the Red-ruffed lemur as this is the only place where they survive.
Milne-Edwards’ sifaka – if George Clooney was a lemur he’d probably be a Milne Edwards
Another member of the graceful sifika family, the Milne Edwards is uber chic, with a debonair, understated creamy white and chocolate brown coat, and smouldering ruby-red eyes. Not as showy as some but the height of sartorial elegance and found in the Ranomafana National Park.
Black lemur – the laid-back beach-bum
Males are jet black and females a rich reddish-brown. Black lemur are only found on Nosy Be, Nosy Komba and in a small area of the Sambirano domain on the mainland. Black lemurs are best known for their fondness for licking certain millipedes which exude an intoxicating substance, leaving the lemurs dazed and glassy-eyed, but totally ‘blissed-out’.
Crowned lemur – royal lemurs for a royal year
Part of the ‘true lemur’ grouping, both male and female Crowned lemurs wear v-shaped tiaras – the males’ tiaras are black and females’ tiaras (pictured) are grey and orange. Crowned lemurs are common in Montagne d’Ambre National Park and in the far north of Madagascar in Ankarana Special Reserve. Wonder what they’ll be doing on 29 April?
With thanks (and apologies) to Derek Schuurman, co-author of Globetrotter Travel Guide: Madagascar, co-author of Bradt’s ‘Madagascar Wildlife’ guide and contributor to Conservation International’s ‘Field Guide to the Lemurs of Madagascar’.
Which of these lemurs would you like to see on your next Madagascar holiday?