Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 72 – The Red-ruffed Lemur

Red-ruffed lemur

“The Animals of the planet are in desperate peril.  Without free animal life I believe we will lose the spiritual equivalent of oxygen”
Alice Walker

Following the long-term rape and pillage of its forests, Madagascar’s unique biodiversity is suffering greatly.  Extreme poverty, internal unrest and the illegal activities of insatiable global businesses have all contributed.  And, it is the innocent animals like the red-ruffed lemur who are left to struggle on, potentially homeless and without an adequate supply of food.

Habitat loss is a major threat to these primates, particularly as they are so dependent on large fruit trees in old-growth forests.Red-ruffed lemur

Considered to be the most beautiful of all lemurs, the red-ruffed lemur, as its name suggests, sports a long, soft, thick, rusty-red coat.  It has a black face and a patch of white fur at the back of its head.  Its hands, feet, underside and tail are also black.

It is one of the largest of all Malagasy primates, weighing in at up to eight pounds, with an average body length of twenty-four inches.  At twenty inches, the tail is almost the same length.  The species is equipped with a specialised claw on the second toe of the hind foot which, along with the lower-front teeth, is used for grooming the long, soft fur.

Red-ruffed lemurs have a whole range of sounds.  They bark to ‘chatter’ with each other and have special alarm calls to warn others of approaching predators.  In all, they have twelve different calls.  Most of which can be heard for miles.  They also communicate through scent.

Red-ruffed lemur Red-ruffed lemurs are polygamous.  They live in small, matriarchal groups of anything between two and six animals.  They breed annually between May and July.  There is a gestation period of up to one hundred and three days.  After which, the female will give birth to an average of three offspring.  At birth, infants are not able to cling to the mother.  When the mother moves, she picks the infants up individually in her mouth. Babies are weaned at four months.  Within this period, mothers ‘park’ their babies in core areas, allowing them to go into the forest.  Other members of the group will care for the babies during this time, giving the mother a much-needed break.  The father will also help out.  Red-ruffed lemurs reach maturity at the age of two

Tall primary forests.
Masoala Peninsula in north-eastern Madagascar.
What they eat
Largely frugivorous, but will also eat leaves, seeds, grains and nuts, nectar and flowers. When feeding on the nectar of flowers, red-ruffed lemurs play a vital role in the pollination of hardwood trees.
Human encroachment, deforestation, hunting for meat and live capture for the international pet trade.  Natural predators are the fossa, snakes and eagles.
Status: Endangered
The Red-ruffed lemur  (Varecia rubra)  is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also protected under Cites Appendix 1.  It is protected officially only within the Masoala National Park and the Makira Protected Area.  The wild population of the red-ruffed lemur is estimated to be between thirty and fifty thousand. The captive worldwide population of red-ruffed lemurs stands at almost six hundred animals.  Captive populations can be found in the United States and Europe.

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 45 – The Peruvian Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey

Peruvian Yellow-Tailed Woolly Monkey

Photo: Stephen D. Nash – Conservation International

This gorgeous little woolly monkey is so critically endangered, it has been removed from the World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012–2014, to make way for others, as there is very little hope left for it as a species.  This situation is deeply sad, and, yet again, man has a great deal to answer for.

The species was first described in 1812 by Alexander von Humboldt.  Humboldt never actually saw a live specimen.  His findings were based solely on some flat, trimmed skins he had found ten years earlier (the skins were being used as saddle covers by Peruvian muleteers at the time).  Apart from a few isolated sightings, nothing much else was seen of the monkey over the next century;  so it was thought to have become extinct.  Then, in 1974, it was rediscovered by a team of WWF funded scientists.  One was found being kept as a pet.  Scientists rejoiced and great media attention followed.

The Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey has a long, thick, woolly pelage  – perfect for cold winters in the high Andes.  Its coat is a rich, dark mahogany colour with a yellow band on the underside of the prehensile tail  (hence its name).  Their faces are hairless save a pale patch of fur on the muzzle.  Their powerful, prehensile tails are used as a fifth limb when swinging through the trees.  When stationary, their whole body can be supported by the tail whilst hanging upside down from the branches.  The inside of the tip of the tail is hairless for maximum grip.

Typically, these arboreal and diurnal primates live high in the forest canopy, and can leap distances of up to fifteen metres at a time to get there.  They live in mixed groups of five to eighteen and are thought to be polygamous.  Each group contains one dominant male. Females will mate with any male in the group.  If successful, gestation will last two hundred and twenty-three days.  Birth rates are low amongst the species, and babies are only born every two to three years.  Normally, only a single infant will be produced.

Unfortunately, yellow-tailed woolly monkeys are naturally curious and trusting – something which is not helping their cause at all.  They are attracted to the sound of gunfire.  If one of them is shot, the others stay looking on, like sitting ducks, increasing their vulnerability.  Mothers are shot and their infants prized away from their bodies and sold as pets.  The soft, silky, warm coat of the adult is still highly sought after, and the meat still prized.  Other parts are valued as trophies.  There is profit in every piece of the monkey.

Perhaps it’s time for these beautiful primates to review this passive attitude and head straight back up into the highest part of the canopy whenever they see a human being approaching.

Montane cloud forests; on steep gorges and ravines up to two to three thousand feet above sea level.
The Peruvian Andes
What they eat
As with all Atelids,  the Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey is a frugivore, but will also feast on leaves, flowers (including buds, roots and stems) and insects.
Prior to the 1970s, the habitat of the Peruvian woolly monkey was inaccessible; protecting it from harm.  Since then, new roads have been built causing habitat fragmentation by way of commercial logging, land clearance for cattle farming and deforestation.  Subsistence hunting is still a threat to the species, within its restricted range.  Naturally low population densities along with slow development, a low reproductive rate, and a highly restricted and fragmented habitat, are hindering increase in numbers.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda) is listed the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.  Due to the plight of this species worsening, it has been removed from the The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012–2014, in order to highlight other species whose situation is also very bleak.
Russ Mittermeier, the primatologist heading Conservation International,  and the person responsible for the rediscovery of the species in 1974,  predicts it may not survive more than another two decades.
“I’m not entirely convinced that we can pull these guys back from the brink based on 250+ individuals alone, but the closer we get to 500, the better the chances are.”

“The Animals of the planet are in desperate peril. Without free animal life I believe we will lose the spiritual equivalent of oxygen.”
Alice Walker

Fast Fact Attack – Endangered Species 11: The Galápagos Penguin

Galapagos penguinDescription
No other penguins live on the equator; Galápagos penguins are the only ones to do so. They are the smallest known of the Spheniscus (wedge-shaped) genus and one of the world’s rarest penguins, with an estimated population of less than 1,000 breeding pairs. Prior to breeding, they moult – usually twice a year – at which time they tend to avoid the water. On land, two eggs are laid 4 days apart, incubation takes 38 – 40 days. Care and responsibility are shared by both parents. The chicks stay with the parents for 60 – 65 days. The adults hunt for food during the day and rely heavily on the nutrient-rich, cold undercurrents from Antarctica for their supply of food. When on land during the day, they protect their feet from burning by putting their little flippers over them.
Rocky coastlines. They breed mainly in caves or crevices, and sometimes burrows.
Galápagos islands, mostly (90%) on the eastern islands of Fernandina and Isabela.
What do they eat?
Mullet, sardines and other small fish, and some crustaceans
Destruction of habitat, due to El Niño cycles (believed to be caused by climate change), has, in the past, brought about severe food shortages resulting in tragic mortality rates. Human disturbance and by-catch are also huge problems, as are natural predators (on land; crabs, snakes, cats, dogs, rats, hawks and owls – at sea; sharks, fur seals and sea lions.).
Status: Endangered
Although threats from man and other predators are very real, scientists ultimately believe climate change will bring about the extinction of the Galápagos penguin. A particularly harsh El Niño could completely erase the species from the planet.


“The Animals of the planet are in desperate peril… Without free animal life I believe we will lose the spiritual equivalent of oxygen.” Alice Walker