This delightful, bamboo-eating lemur was first discovered in 1870, after which it disappeared without trace for almost a century. Happily, it was rediscovered in 1972. But, enough is now known to say this gentle creature is on the verge of true extinction.
A cathemeral species, active both at night and during the day – though it does favour daylight hours more, this adorable primate is surprisingly rotund. I say surprisingly because it is hard to believe anything living on bamboo could look so chunky. It weighs up to two and a half kilos (male) and is the largest of the bamboo lemurs.
At its best, the male measures almost eighteen inches from the body to the top of the head, and sports a tail which is even longer at nineteen inches. They have dense grey brown fur with a darker reddish-olive patch on the head, and paler undersides. Their most distinctive features are a pair of large white or pale-grey ear-tufts.
They move through the trees using a quadrupedal movement along the branches, and leaping between them. Although they are arboreal, they also spend time on the ground.
When it comes to feeding, they are quite unique. Greater bamboo lemurs have specialised molars for boring into the bamboo stalks, and then strip them with their claws to get to the fleshy inner parts.
The bamboo they consume (Cathariostachys madagascariensis) naturally produces cyanide, particularly in its growing shoots. All the bamboo eating lemurs seem to have developed a high level of tolerance to this. The amount they consume in a day is enough to kill off the average human being.
Greater bamboo lemurs are polygynous. The mating season for the species is May to June with a corresponding birth season in October and November. Gestation lasts up to one hundred and forty-nine days. Only one baby is ever born. There is an inter-birth interval of one year. The infants cling to their mother’s backs for the first four months. Although the infants will not be fully weaned until they are eight months old, they will be eating solid bamboo by the time they reach five weeks.
Less that two hundred and fifty greater bamboo lemurs now survive in the wild. And, like many other specialist species, it is unable to adapt to its changing habitat. Madagascar, to which the greater bamboo lemur is endemic, is recognised as one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Yet, it seems it is rapidly losing a great deal of its wildlife due to habitat loss and hunting. As a result, the island has now become a global priority for conservationists.
Primary rainforests where giant bamboo flourishes.
Madagascar – mainly in the Ranomafana and Adringtra forest reserves.
What they eat
Primarily bamboo – specifically the giant bamboo, Cathariostachys madagascariensis. 95% of their diet is made up of this. They will also occasionally eat fruits, flowers and leaves.
Habitat loss due to illegal logging, slash-and-burn agriculture and the harvesting of bamboo. Hunting with snares and slingshots. The only natural predator of the greater bamboo lemur is the fossa.
Status: Critically Endangered
The greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus), is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. It is also listed on Appendix I of CITES. With fewer than 250 (and declining) mature individuals left in the wild, this species is hanging on by a thread. The species is protected in Madagascar, where it inhabits the Andringitra and Ranomafana National Parks. Sadly, hunting still exists for meat and the pet trade. This, together with habitat encroachment and destruction, needs tackling with more rigour, or this delightful, bamboo-eating little primate will be gone forever. Currently several non-profit making conservation organisations are involved, so perhaps there is still some glimmer of hope.
“The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of men”