Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 102 – The Aye-aye


“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”
Bertrand Russell

Aye Aye In many parts of Madagascar, ancient Malagasy legend has it that if an aye-aye points its extremely long finger in your direction, you are marked for death.  Locals believe the aye-aye will sneak into the village houses, under cover of darkness, and, using its long middle finger, pierce the hearts of those sleeping.  The only way to avoid this terrible fate is to kill the tiny, defenceless creature and hang it upside down by the roadside, so that the malignant spirits will be carried away by passing travellers.  As a result, aye-ayes are killed on sight, a practice resulting in the species being accorded Near Threatened status by the  International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Aye-ayes are nocturnal and arboreal creatures who hide away in nests during the day, curled up at the top of the canopy and safe from natural predators.  However, when they do descend, they seem to know no fear of humans.  Reports suggest they stroll calmly into villages and approach people in the forest, making them very easy targets.  But, having been perceived as an harbingers of death for so long, the fate of the little aye-ayes has been more-or-less sealed, and these friendly little primates are rapidly diminishing in numbers.  The legend may or may not have been based on the fact that they look rather like demented demons, but whatever its origins, a call for education is an obvious must here, before all populations are obliterated because of this ludicrous superstition.

Aye Aye In a few areas, where the legend does not induce trepidation, aye-ayes are revered by the Malagasy. It is said they embody ancestral spirits and are a good omen.

The plight of the aye-ayes is in no way helped by ever-increasing deforestation, either. Growing human settlements are increasingly encroaching on the aye-aye’s natural habitat.   Agriculture is gobbling up the forests where tavy (slash-and-burn agriculture) is widely used.  The aye-ayes, along with most of Madagascar’s other lemurs, are rapidly becoming homeless and hungry because of this.  This has lead to them moving towards cultivated land and being shot as crop pests.

Aye-ayes, also hunted as bushmeat incidentally, are the largest nocturnal primates.  They are also one of the few solitary primates. These demonic-looking little lemurs may not be the prettiest animals on earth, but they are certainly very endearing in their own way. Aye Aye Unfortunately, because of their strange looks, rather derogatory remarks are made about them, and they have been awarded the dubious accolade of ‘one the ugliest animals on earth’.  Though, it has to be said, the aye-aye is a bit of a mish-mash.

The ears of the aye-aye resemble those of a bat, the teeth those of a beaver, the tail that of a squirrel and the large, orange eyes bring gremlins to mind.   The large, wickedly responsive, bat-like ears rotate independently, and can detect the slightest sounds, and the incisor teeth never stop growing throughout the aye-ayes life.  The most extraordinary feature, however, is the elongated, almost skeletal, middle finger.  Contrary to superstition, this digit is not designed to kill humans, but is, in fact, an evolutionary marvel and a highly adapted tool of the species.

Witness aye-ayes eating and it’s clear good forest table manners are not their forte, but their motor skills, using this incredible digit, are superb.  Rather like a woodpecker using its beak, the aye-ayes tap on bark to locate pockets of wood-boring Aye Aye insect larvae hidden inside.  This is known as percussive foraging.  Once the presence of larvae has been confirmed, the sharp, rat-like teeth gnaw away at the wood and in goes the long, thin middle finger to retrieve the grubs through the newly made hole.  All perfectly executed.

Aye-ayes spend the largest part of their day sleeping in well-made, woven nests.  They site these in tree forks and construct them with leaves and twigs. Time is taken building each nest, usually a whole day, and a single aye-aye may build up to twenty of these within its home range.  The spherical nests are quite intricate and consist of a closed top, a side entrance and a base of shredded leaves.  They tend to measure about twenty inches in diameter.  The aye-ayes may switch nests from time to time and others may occupy the nests left vacant.

Aye Aye babyThere is no fixed breeding season for aye-ayes, this seems to be an all-year-round event. Following suitable pairing, there is a gestation period of about one hundred and sixty days, after which a single infant will be born in the nest ‘box’.  The baby, born with floppy ears, will depend on its mother’s milk for the first seven to twelve months of its life, and remain with its mother until it is two years old.  This, in effect, means females are only able to care for one infant every two to three years, making re-population of the species a slow process.  The baby will remain in the nest for about two months before emerging into the canopy.  It will start on solids at about fourteen weeks of age.   Both parents will remain near the nest after the birth and the male parent has also been known to share food with the infant.

Assuming infants survive the rigours of the wild, it is generally thought they will not live as long as they would in captivity, where records show aye-ayes living up to twenty-six years.  Unfortunately, little is known about their actual lifespan in the wild.

Natural Habitat
Dense, tropical and coastal rainforest, dry scrub forest,  secondary growth forests, bamboo thickets, coconut groves and mangroves.
What they eat
Mainly the inside of Ramy nuts.   Plus other f
ruits, seeds, insect larvae and nectar.
Killed on sight by locals believing it to be a harbinger of death.   Killed as a crop pest. Hunted for subsistence food.  Poaching for the bush-meat trade.  Habitat loss due to deforestation by way of human settlement and agriculture.  Natural predators include the fossa, birds of prey and snakes.
Status: Near Threatened
The Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future).  The species occurs in national parks and special reserves throughout Madagascar, though it is not adequately protected.  Captive breeding programmes exist involving various worldwide institutions. There is also an introduced population on the island of Nosy Mangabe and Aye-Aye island.  The species is listed on  Appendix I of CITES.
The global captive population of aye-ayes stands at about forty-five individuals.  Those involved include the Duke Lemur Center, Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, London Zoo, Paris Zoo and Tokyo Zoo.

Related Articles
Madagascar aye-ayes in danger
Aye-ayes: Endangered lemurs’ complete genomes are sequenced and analyzed for conservation efforts
Aye-aye lemur ‘heats up’ its special foraging finger
Secrets of a Strange Lemur: An Aye-Aye Gallery
Legends of Madagascar
Weird Animal Hands: Demon Primate, Flappy-Armed Frog, More

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 96 – The Black and White Ruffed Lemur

Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

“It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe

The name lemur is taken from the Latin word lemurēs.  Lemurēs were “shades or spirits of the restless or malignant dead and haunters of the night”.  Lemurs were probably so named because of their appearance and nocturnal habits.

Black and white ruffed lemur hanging in a treeClearly this legend no longer protects this rare and critically endangered primate.  The black and white ruffed lemur, being quite large, is now viewed more as a tangible, edible commodity than an elusive, mythical spectre. Sadly, its distinctive black and white markings, its size and its daylight activity, make it, as you would imagine, hard to miss when sitting in the trees;  it is now heavily hunted. Black and white ruffed lemur meat is also expensive and much sought after.

But, there is an even broader threat to the existence of the black and white ruffed lemurs – extensive deforestation has left them with very little space to find food and shelter.  Their forests have been cleared by slash-and-burn agriculture, logging and mining, greatly endangering the species.

Black and white ruffed lemur on nestWith the capacity to produce up to six babies at a time, it would be quite reasonable to assume the species could replenish any losses quite quickly, but unfortunately there is a very high infant mortality rate.  The mothers build special nests for their young whilst they await their arrival, well-hidden in trees and ten to twenty metres above the ground.   Quite unique, but, sadly many babies fall from the nests and die before reaching a few weeks old, and only around thirty-five per cent survive longer than three months.  The ones that do survive don’t have enough trees to live in or live off.  They rely heavily upon fruit in their diet and the trees they favour are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Black and white ruffed lemur in a tree showing its long fluffy tailBlack and white lemurs are important pollinators. Though they may well be unaware of this, when feeding on the nectar of the traveller’s palm, they automatically transfer pollen between the flowers, thus ensuring the ongoing success of the palm trees.

These lemurs, together with the red ruffed lemurs, are one of the largest of all extant lemurs.  Both male and female are the same in appearance and size, and can grow up to four feet in length and weigh up to ten or twelve pounds.  They both have soft, thick fur with black and white markings, a ruff of long white fur around the ears and neck, and under the chin.

Black and white ruffed lemurs have thick, furry tails. These are longer than the body and are used for balance.  They move through the trees and on the ground in quadrupedal fashion.

These adorable primates are arboreal and crepuscular (active mainly in the early morning and late afternoon).  They normally live in groups consisting of two to five individuals (though larger groups do occur) and communicate using a range of raucous vocalisations, second only to the howler monkey in volume.  The most used calls are predator alarm calls, locator calls and Black and White Ruffed Lemur mating calls.  Choruses can be heard throughout the day but are stepped up during periods of high activity, making these lemurs very easy to find.  Lemurs also have an enlarged sensory organ to help read smells, pheromones, and other chemical signals.

A peculiar and comical trait  of  lemurs is their penchant for relaxing while facing the sun.  The black and white ruffed lemur is no exception.  Arms are usually outstretched as they soak up the sun, as if hoping for the perfect tan.

The females in the troop are the dominant members and can, as such, choose their own mates. They also get first dibs on the food. The black and white ruffed lemurs were thought to be monogamous and bond for life, but this has since been disputed. They are now thought to be polygamous.

Breeding is seasonal (between May and July) and the gestation period running up to the birth is normally three months.  Prior to the birth, the females will build a nest for the imminent arrivals. The nests will made of twigs and leaves and lined with the female’s fur, which she will have pulled out herself.  They are the only true lemurs to build nests. Births of six infants have been recorded, and the females do Black and White Ruffed Lemur with babieshave six mammary glands to support such large births, but the usual number is between two and four.  The new babies will stay in the nest until they are about two or three weeks old when they will start to move around after the mother.  Whilst very young and still in the nest, mothers carry the young in their mouths and ‘park’ them in safe spots while they forage for food.  At about five weeks the infants will start climbing trees.  Males are also known to take part in the parenting of the young.

The black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) is the more endangered of the two species of ruffed lemurs, both of which are endemic to the island of Madagascar. The other being the red ruffed lemur (varecia rubra).

Three subspecies of black and white ruffed lemur are recognised, the southern ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata editorum), the white-belted ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata subcincta) and the black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata variegata), all of which are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. [1]

Natural Habitat
Primary and secondary lowland and mid-altitude rainforest.
Where What they eat
Lemurs are mainly frugivorous but nectar, flowers, leaves and seeds are also eaten.
Habitat loss due to illegal logging, illegal mining and slash-and-burn agriculture techniques. The black and white ruffed lemur are also heavily hunted for their meat. Natural predators include birds of prey, mongooses, fossa and boa constrictors.
Status: Critically Endangered
The black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. In fact, all three of the recognised subspecies are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.  The species is also listed on CITES Appendix I.  Exact population numbers are unknown, but are thought to be declining rapidly.
If this species is to survive in the wild, the forest reserves it inhabits need to be better protected. Although they are part of various successful captive breeding programs, which have in turn reintroduced the black and white lemur back to the wild, these programs have ultimately failed the black and white ruffed lemurs because of the lack of safe, natural habitat available for the animals on arrival in Madagascar.

The following videos all show animals in captivity, the first two being shot at  Sacramento Zoo  where this species is bred to “educate the public on how they can help these and other animals in the wild.”  I have not been able to obtain any footage of black and white lemurs in the wild.

Related Articles
Dexterous Fingers
‘Nursery nests’ are better for survival of young black-and-white ruffed lemurs
World’s most extraordinary species mapped for the first time
Primary seed dispersal by the black-and-white ruffed lemur 

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 73 – The Northern Sportive Lemur

Northern sportive lemur

“If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man.  All things are connected”
Chief Seattle

Not another endangered lemur you may cry, but, this one is very special.  Incredibly, there are only eighteen left on the planet and none known to be kept in captivity.  Also known as the Sahafary sportive lemur, this gorgeous little primate is really struggling to survive.  Like most wildlife species on the island of Madagascar, northern sporting lemurs cannot be found anywhere else in the world.  Many species are expected to go extinct within the next decade, and the chances are, the northern sportive lemur will be the first to go.  And, to boot, the first for two hundred years.  Currently, it has very little habitat left and even less chance of survival.  It is very doubtful that anything will change in time to save these endearing little primates.Sportive lemur 4 - Photo Credit Coke Smith

Madagascar, beautiful and as richly-biodiverse as it is, is also an island far too familiar with political unrest, poverty and lack of education.  The state of this species is a prime example of the result of the combination of these factors.  Twenty-one million people live on the island and over eighty-five per cent of its forests have disappeared.   It is estimated that all of the unprotected forest will be gone on the island by year 2025. None of it really makes sense.  The country is extremely rich in mineral deposits,  has petroleum and a vast array of wonderful wildlife which should bring in huge revenues from tourists.  Unfortunately, this is not what is happening.

This tiny, round-eyed resident of Madagascar measures no more than eight inches in length and weighs a mere two pounds.  It has greyish-brown fur with a dark line along its back.  Both eyes face forward for optimum vision.

The northern sportive lemur leaps from tree to tree, and can jump vertically up tree trunks using padded hands and feet to cling on with.  The species also has a curious habit of adopting a vertical stance, rather like a boxer, when feeling threatened.  It is from this stance the name ‘sportive’ is derived.

Sportive lemur 5Northern sportive lemurs are nocturnal.  During the day, they sleep in holes in trees, usually up to eight meters above ground level.

The breeding season begins in April and continues through to June.  After a gestation period of up to one hundred and fifty days, usually between September and December, a single infant will be born.  Young are nursed in the tree hollows until they are about about four months old.  They continue to stay with the mother until they are about one year old.

Dry deciduous forest and evergreen forest.
What they eat
Mainly folivorous
The major threat is habit loss and degredation form slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging and charcoal burning.The Northern Sportive Lemur is a niche species.  Natural predators include Sanzinia madagascariensis, the Malagasy tree boa, which sneaks up on them in the day, whilst they sleep, and snatches them from their holes.
Status: Critically Endangered
The northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.  This species is also under the protection of CITES Appendix I. Only nineteen are thought to be extant in the wild, with no known animals kept in captivity. Despite conservation efforts, with so few left and none within captive breeding programs, the future of the northern sportive lemur, very sadly, does not look at all promising.

Related links
Dead Primate Walking
Lemurs Most Threatened Mammals on the Planet 
Lemurs Named World’s Most Endangered Mammals

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. 69 – Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur

Madame Berthe's mouse lemur

Photographer: Gerald Cubitt

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another”
Mahatma Gandhi

This tiny, adorable primate, small enough to hold in the palm of one’s hand, is yet another innocent losing out to deforestation and hunting.  The species was named in honour of Professor Berthe Rakotosamimanana, one of the founding members of the  Groupe d’Etudes et de Recherche des Primates (GERP) –  a non-profit organisation based in Madagascar, pursuing scientific research and conservation of primates on the island.

Weighing in at no more than thirty grams, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is the smallest primate on the planet.  It has reddish-brown fur Madame Berthe's mouse lemur on top with paler underparts. Like all lemurs, it has a white stripe between the eyes and sports a dark line along the back.  Its overall length, including the tail which makes up more than half, is under ten inches.  The species has large, round eyes.  Behind the eyes’ retina is the tapetum, a layer of shiny, blue-green stuff.  This layer reflects light back through the retina, allowing for enhanced night-vision.

Berthe's mouse lemur

In general, mouse lemurs are strictly nocturnal.  They live in groups of up to fifteen individuals where the female is dominant.  They make their homes in holes in tree trunks.

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemurs breed in November.  Since little data is available concerning the reproduction in the Berthe’s mouse lemur, accounts are based on those considered closest.  Grey mouse lemurs are thought to be the most likely to have similar behavioural patterns. Therefore, a two month gestation period is supposed, followed by the birth of one to three young.  The mother will care for the  (altricial)  babies until they are about two months old.  Once weaned, the mother will use the following four to six weeks to store body fat, in the tail and hind legs, and rest. This will allow her to decrease metabolic rate and fall into a torpor for the dry season. The dry season occurs from as early as April to as late as October.

Lowland deciduous forests.
What they eat
Honeydew; a sugary secretion produced by the insect larvae of the white flower bug (Flatida coccinea).  They  also  eat gums, fruits and flowers, and occasional small vertebrates and arthropods.
ThreatsUp to 90 per cent Of Global Deforestation is Due to Organized Crime
As with most of Madagascar’s species, the major threat to this little mouse lemur is habitat loss due to illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture.   It is also threatened by live capture for the pet trade and hunting for meat . Natural predators include fossa, civet, mongoose, snakes and owls.
Status: Endangered
Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus berthae) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered. It is also under the protection of CITES Appendix I It is believed, no more than eight thousand individuals remain, making the future look bleak for these little primates.  However, with a new conservation strategy in place, there is hope for all Madagascar’s wildlife.  A long, interesting and inspiring report of the strategy can be found here:  Lemurs of Madagascar – A Strategy for Their Conservation 2013–2016

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 62 – Blue-eyed Black Lemur

Blue-eyed black lemur in tree

Photographer: Emily Payne / Daily Mail

This little primate, as are  many others, is losing his battle against organised crime. Adopting a  ‘grab it before it all goes’  policy, organised crime is now responsible for up to 90% of tropical deforestation through illegal logging.  And, at an estimated $30 to $100 billion per year, you can see the attraction for the less scrupulous members of the planet.  

Unchecked, which is what they are at the moment, these crime lords are continuing to rape the planet at the expense of wildlife, the environment and indigenous peoples. Although the United Nations Environment Program released this alarming report in September, 2012, this situation has not changed.

You may wonder why so many lemurs are featured here on this page.  The reason being; they are the world’s most endangered primates, with over 91% of species listed on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable to extinct  (twenty-three of those extant are critically endangered).  Shocking statistics!

Blue-eyed lemurs are sexually dichromatic; females are orange-brown and males are black.  The blue-eyed black lemur, also known as the Sclater’s lemur,  **  is considered a true lemur.  The blue-eyed black lemur may be the only primate  (other than humans)  to have blue eyes – an extremely rare occurrence amongst primates.  This is also what differentiates them from black lemurs.

Black lemurs have brown eyes and blue-eyed blacks, as the name suggests, have deep blue eyes.  Black lemurs are known to breed with blue-eyed black lemurs, where their habitat overlaps, but any offspring resulting from these liaisons will only ever have brown eyes.

A medium-sized blue-eyed black lemur can weigh about five and a half pounds.  They can reach an average body length of seventeen to eighteen inches, with a non-prehensile tail length of over twenty-four inches.   They have strong, human-like hands, equipped with rubbery textured skin on the palms, to aid gripping of branches.

Practised climbers, they can cover long distances by leaping through the trees using their long non-prehensile tails as a balancing tool.  Tails which are often carried high in the air as the animals moves.  On the ground, they move in a quadrupedal manner.   They manage to escape danger from humans and natural predators by suddenly dropping from the trees, hurtling through scrub to another tree, and hurriedly climbing out of sight.

The species live together in groups of two to fifteen individuals.  Leadership falls to the females in the group.   Communications between the primates consists of vocalisations, body language, facial expressions and scent marking.  Vocalisations are made up of clicking, barking, grunting and chirping, and males have been heard making a loud ‘scree’ noise when threatened.   This species has also been noted to be highly aggressive within the group.  Fights often break out during the breeding and birthing seasons.

The breeding season occurs from April to June.  Females give birth from August to October, following a gestation period of one hundred and twenty-six days.  Either twins or a single baby will be born.  Neither case is unusual. T he babies will average seventy-five grams in weight.  Both sexes are born with the same brown to black colouration  (males will begin to turn black five or six weeks after birth).

Juveniles are the first to be allowed near the infants.  The father is next in line and finally the other females in the group.  Infants cling to their mothers for the first three weeks of their lives.  After which they will make short trips out to see what is going on around them, but never straying far from the safety of mother.  At the same time they begin to experiment with solids.  The infant won’t be weaned, however, until five or six months of age.

** These beautiful lemurs are named after Philip Sclater, who during the 1800s was secretary of the London Zoological Society.

Primary and secondary sub-tropical moist forests and dry forests.  They can also be found on citrus, coffee and timber plantations.
What they eat
Mostly fruit, pollen and nectar.  They will also eat leaves, seeds, berries and the occasional insect when food is scarce during the dry season.
Habitat loss  (more than 80% in 20-25 years)  due to ongoing slash-and-burn agriculture, selective logging and uncontrolled forest fires.   They are sometimes killed as crop pests. The species is also hunted and trapped for food by the Tsimihety people, a Malagasy ethnic group.  Blue-eyed black lemurs are also captured for the illegal fur, meat and pet trade, and zoos.  Occasionally, they are kept locally as pets.
Status: Critically Endangered
The blue-eyed black lemur  (Eulemur flavifrons)  is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.  It is also protected under Appendix I of CITES  and recognised as one of  “The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates”.  As few as one thousand individuals are thought to exist in the wild, though precise numbers are not available.  In 2012, twenty-nine individuals were recorded as living in zoos.

Crucial work is being carried out by various international agencies and organisations to conserve this species.  Captive breeding programmes are in place around the world, as are various in situ projects concerning local awareness.  Reforestation projects are also currently active.  Although the blue-eyed black lemur and its habitat are protected in parts, poaching and deforestation continue to escalate.  These are serious law enforcement issues which needs to be addressed with some vigour.   

There is further hope for the future of the blue-eyed black lemur, in the form of the very dedicated Duke Lemur Center, Duke University, located in Durham, North Carolina, USA. To see some of their incredible work, click on the ink.  

“When I hear of the destruction of a species, I feel just as if all the works of some great writer have perished”
Theodore Roosevelt

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 47 – The Greater Bamboo Lemur

Greater bamboo lemur eating bamboo

Photo: I Relanzon – NPL

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”
Emile Zola

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 24 – The Radiated Tortoise

Radiated tortoise 3

Photo: Original source unknown

Having managed to survive extensive loss of habitat,  this exquisite tortoise has now been virtually wiped out by the illegal pet trade.   Ironically,  its own outstanding beauty has been its nemesis.  The name radiated comes from the detailed yellow lines covering the shell and radiating from the centre of the dark plates on the high-domed carapace.

The oldest recorded radiated tortoise,  a gift from Captain Cook to the Tongan royal family in 1777,  lived through two centuries until it finally died in 1965.  Amazingly,  aged one hundred and eighty-eight.

The diurnal radiated tortoise  (Astrochelys radiata)  is highly adaptable and is as at home in the dry season as in the monsoons.  It is said they  “dance”  in the rain,  possibly to shake off the water.   If frightened they emit a loud screeching noise and although a peaceful animal,  if threatened,  can become aggressive.   With a shell containing blood vessels and nerves,  the radiated tortoise is able to feel when touched.

A female will lay between 3 and 12 eggs,  which is followed by an incubation period of up to 231 days.  Tiny hatchlings develop their carapaces soon afterwards.

Spiny forests and tropical woodlands
What they eat
Plants,  grasses,  leaves and dead leaves, fruits and sometimes cacti
Habitat loss,  poaching for food and the illegal wildlife and pet trade
Status: Critically Endangered
Through avaricious poaching for the pet trade, this beautiful tortoise may well be extinct within the next twenty years. It is on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered with the illegal wildlife/pet trade being cited as a major concern. Various conservation agencies are currently working to save it from extinction.

“Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.”
Edward O. Wilson

Related articles:
Endangered tortoises are branded to make them unattractive to poachers

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 21 – Silky Sifaka

Safika family

Photo: Jeff Gibbs

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