Everything you need to know about lemurs and where to see them...

Madagascar is just a quarter of the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo, yet boasts an incredible number of different lemur species, each of which is completely endemic. Most famous is the indri whose calls awaken weary travellers with a rush of excitement, other famous species include the ring tailed and dancing sifaka. 

Perhaps a little less known is the eerie aye aye, whose intriguing looks, including bulbous eye and a very long finger, led to much supernatural suspicion among the Malagasy people.

A safari to Madagascar in October could bring you face to face with endeering baby ring tailed lemurs.

Expert view: Oliver Greenfield

Officially the dry season runs from April - October although due to the size and geography of the island there are various regional weather variations. 

Seeing the baby ring-tails is so wonderful, I'd highly recommend it!

the lemurs

A variety of different lemur species inhabit the Red Island, from the dwindling forests in the interior to the scrublands of the south and even in the forests and beaches of Anjajavy. Experiencing these intriguing creatures is very different to trekking the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda, or orang-utans in Borneo, with such a range of species and personas to spot. 

Lemurs are prosimians rather than anthropoids (humans, monkeys and apes are the latter), hence evolved earlier and have a very different way of life. Unlike all other primates, prosimians use their sense of smell to differentiate between individuals in their group and suss out what is safe to eat and females play the dominant role, defending their group and choosing who to mate with. 

Primate extinction has already occurred on this island. Fossil records prove approximately 2,000 years ago 47 primate species used to exist on the island with the largest growing bigger than an adult male gorilla. Since then 85% of the island's forests have been destroyed as a result of slash and burn agriculture, 70% of the island's primate population is now in some type of trouble; several of these species are close to extinction.

there are over 10 recognised lemur species, including tiny tea-cup sized pygmy lemurs, and the rather large (and vocal) indri!

Species and Distribution

As of 2010 there were over 100 lemur species formally recognised so we haven’t listed them all below! We have, however, picked out a few common favourites to give you a little more information.

Ring Tailed lemur 

Easily recognisable by their banded tails and dark, mask like eyes, ring tailed lemurs inhabit dry scrub, deciduous and gallery forests in the south and southwest of the island. More terrestrial than most lemurs, they live in groups of up to 20, mainly in Isalo, Andringitra and Andohahela National Parks and the Berenty Reserve.

Black Lemur 

Males are all black and females have a brown back, a grey head, long white ear tufts and are white underneath. These cathemeral (meaning they have irregular bursts of activity) lemurs are more active during the night and inhabit forests in the northwest of the island of groups of about 7 – 10.

Red Ruffed lemur 

One of the largest primates in Madagascar, these lemurs are restricted to Masoala Peninsula in the northeast. Weighting between 3.5 and 4 kg, they are characterised mainly by their rusty red coloured ruff and body, and black stomach, tail, feet and inside of the legs. They also have a white patch on the backs of their necks and may have white markings on their feet or mouths.

Verreaux's Sifaka 

Also known as white sifakas, they belong to the same family as the indri. Despite being tree dwellers they do have to cross the ground occasionally, which is perhaps what they are most famous for. Standing only on their long back legs, their forearms above their head for balance they have the appearance of dancing as they jump across the forest floor. Found in the south and west of the island, they share their territory with ring tailed lemurs.

Indri 

These are the largest of the lemurs, known for their strange wailing song and teddy bear like appearance. Indris inhabit the island's eastern rainforests, namely Andasibe National Park.

Bamboo Lemur

Living in small groups of up to four, they feed mainly on bamboo. The most common of these species is the grey bamboo lemur, which can be seen is several of the eastern parks. The golden bamboo lemur, however, is much rarer and mainly seen in Ranomafana National Park.

Mouse Lemur

This abundant species can be found throughout Madagascar and most easily seen in Ranomafana and Andasibe National Parks as well as the Berenty Reserve. These nimble creatures are the smallest of the primates, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur being the tiniest weighing just 30 grams, growing up to 100mm long.

Aye Aye

Despite being quite well spread, these eerie looking, solitary creatures are rarely seen. Covered in the black or dark brown fur, with white guard hairs around their neck, aye ayes have a bushy tail not dissimilar to a squirrel. They also have rodent-like teeth, round dish-like ears and beady luminous eyes. Their fingers are long and thin, the middle finger being up to three times longer than the rest to extract grubs from inside trees.. Known for being rather fearless, aye ayes are considered a nuisance by some villages and a symbol of death by others!

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