Land of Lemurs

The great allure of Madagascar is the uniqueness of its wildlife, first and foremost the spectacular variety of the endemic lemurs (see Herrera 2017 for a discussion of their adaptive radiation). On a journey in August 2019, I finally had a chance to encounter these wonderful animals in the wild, in the distressingly few remaining areas of forest.

At one end of the scale is Indri indri, the largest extant lemur (the gorilla sized Archaeoindris being now extinct). At the miniature end of the scale are the charming and tiny mouse lemurs, including the smallest primates on the planet. And then, there are the different styles of locomotion to observe and enjoy, from the ballet-like leaps of the sifakas to the all-fours scampering of the Eulemurs and the scurrying of the mouse lemurs. There is also a prize for weirdness, which goes to the nocturnal aye-aye.

Eight families of lemurs have been recognized, three of which are extinct. Cheirogaleids are the dwarf lemurs, including the smallest known primates. Daubentoniidae is represented by the Aye-aye, the largest nocturnal primate. Indriidae includes the large Indri, the woolly lemurs and the sifakas. The Lemurids include the true lemurs (such as the browns), bamboo lemurs, mongoose lemurs, ruffed lemurs and the famous ring-tails. Family Lepilemuridae comprises the charming sportive lemurs. 

We encountered 21 species on the journey with representatives from each of the extant families.

The main areas visited during the journey are shown below. Long drives between forests on some truly appalling roads were memorable.

Here below is a selection of photographs of lemurs from the journey to illustrate their diversity. Let's start with some mouse lemurs at Berenty and Ankarafantsika.

At night, in a spiky tree, the beautiful grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus), Berenty, 10th August 2019

Golden brown mouse lemur (Microcebus ravelobensis), Ankarafantsika, 17th August 2019. What big eyes!

Golden brown mouse lemur, Ankarafantsika

Golden brown mouse lemur, Ankarafantsika

And now, the strangest of all, the nocturnal aye-aye, here on a protected island in the Pangalanes on the east coast of Madagascar. Notice the dramatic long middle finger used to pull grubs out. This is the world's largest nocturnal primate.

Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), Pangalanes, 7th August 2019

With those, we've seen the smallest and the strangest of the lemurs. Now here's the largest, the vocal indri.

Here's the largest of the lemurs, Indri indri, caught in the act of singing, an astonishingly intense sound, at Andasibe, 6th August 2019.

Looking up at an indri, at Andasibe, 6th August 2019

Here's an eastern woolly lemur (Avahi laniger) at Andasibe, 6th August 2019

The sifakas with their upright stance on the ground are a delight to watch. Most spectacular are the Verreaux's sifakas at Berenty in the south.

Sifaka ballet, mother and child Verreaux's sifaka (Propithecus verrauxi), at Berenty in the south10th August 2019

another Verreaux's sifaka mid air at Berenty10th August 2019

The lemurids are very different from the sifakas, running on all fours when they are on the ground.

The all fours gait of brown lemurs on the ground contrasts with the upright sifakas, here seen at Berenty10th August 2019

Probably the most well known of the lemurs, the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), here seen at Berenty in the south, 10th August 2019

Rarely seen mongoose lemurs (Eulemur mongoz), at Ankarafantsika, 18th August 2019

Grey bamboo lemur (Hapalemur griseus) at Andasibe-Mantadia, 6th August 2019

And finally, here's a sportive lemur to represent the lepilemuridae.

Milne-Edwards sportive lemur (Lepilemur edwardsi), at Ankarafantsika, 18th August 2019

Madagascar's natural landscape is being degraded at a very high rate and I recommend a visit sooner rather than later to enjoy these unique animals in the wild.


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