Unlike other primates on the island, the silky sifaka is not afforded the protection of a taboo forbidding it from being hunted for meat. Many Malagasy view wild lemur meat as a delicacy. Ironic really, considering this particular lemur is one of the rarest and most critically endangered of all.
The name sifaka is derived from the sound they make when calling each other – a hiss-like “shee fak”. They are also nick-named “ghosts of the forest” or “angels of the forest” because of their distinctive and very beautiful silky fur, and the way in which they leap so quickly, 30 feet at a time, through the trees; there one minute – gone the next!
They travel using a form of locomotion known as “vertical clinging and leaping” and on the ground they move with bipedal sideways hopping movements.
Silky sifakas are diurnal and mate only one day a year, during the start of the rainy season. Troup members of varying ages and both sexes play with, occasionally carry, groom and often nurse each other’s infants. Baby sifakas attach to the front of the mother for three to four weeks, after which they climb onto her back. The sifaka’s cycle of reproduction makes for slow progress in increasing their numbers, and may affect the future survival of the species. The gestation period is six months and they normally give birth to only one tiny baby every two years.
The estimated wild population figures, which are very wide-ranging, are between 100 and 1000. Possibly due to their folivorous diet, they have never been able to survive in captivity, so there is not much hope for a captive breeding program.
Tropical, moist forest located up to 1800 metres above sea level.
The mountains of north-eastern Madagascar
What they eat
Leaves, fruit and seed form most of their diet, with a small amount of flowers, bark and soil thrown in.
Man is the greatest threat – what a surprise! Illegal logging, slash-and-burn agriculture and hunting for meat have all contributed to the sifaka’s dilemma. The fossa (cryptoprocta ferox) has also been known to prey on them.
Status: Critically Endangered
The silky sifaka (propithecus candidus) is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and is on its ‘Top 25 Most Endangered Primates’ list. It is hoped the work of Erik Patel, whose mission with Simpona is “to protect and research silky sifakas and their habitat while engaging local communities as partners”, as well as other agencies involved in Madagascar, will aid the recovery of the species.
“We share this planet with many species. It is our responsibility to protect them, both for their sakes and our own”
Pamela A. Matson