World Lemur Day – a photo essay by Bristol Zoological Society | Environment

Lemur species vary enormously in their size, appearance and behaviour, from the strange-looking nocturnal aye-aye to the sideways-leaping Coquerel’s sifaka. All species are endemic to the island of Madagascar, where they are under severe threat from fragmentation and loss of their forest habitat, due to logging, subsistence agriculture and forest fires, and are also at risk from hunting and the rapid recent increase in the human population.

Crowned lemur

A young male and female crowned lemur (Eulemur coronatus) in Ankarana Special Reserve in Madagascar

Crowned lemurs are classified as endangered and are found only in the far north of Madagascar, making them susceptible to extinction. They get their name from the bright orange crown pattern that males and females have on top of their heads.

Coquerel’s sifaka

Coquerel’s sifakas (Propithecus coquereli) in coastal rainforest in the Palmarium nature reserve in Madagascar

One of the most unusual-looking primates, Coquerel’s sifakas are leaf-eaters from the dry north-western forests of Madagascar. Sifakas are perhaps best known for their unique upright, leaping run, using their back legs to propel themselves along the ground or to leap up to 20 feet from one tree to the next.

Sahamalaza sportive lemur

A Sahamalaza sportive lemur

Very little is known about this critically endangered species and it is not kept in any zoo, but researchers from Bristol Zoological Society and the universities of Bristol and Turin found that it uses the alarm calls of birds and other lemurs to detect the presence of predators. These lemurs roost during the day, often in exposed locations such as tree holes, and therefore risk falling victim to predators from the air and the ground.


An aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) in western Masoala, Madagascar

The aye-aye is the largest nocturnal primate, easily recognisable for its unusual appearance – a long, thin middle finger, continuously growing fused teeth, yellow eyes, big ears and a long, bushy tail. Their major threats are forest degradation and fragmentation, slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture and local communities that believe the aye-aye is an evil omen and often kill them when they are near their villages. Exact numbers remaining in the wild are unknown but aye-ayes are rare. Bristol Zoo Gardens has a breeding group in its nocturnal house.

Ring-tailed lemur

A ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) leaping through the canopy carrying an infant in Tsimanampetsotsa national park, Madagascar

Ring-tailed lemurs are classified as endangered on the IUCN red list of threatened species. In the wild, they are only found in the dry forests and bush of southern Madagascar. The wild population is declining and most live in small fragmented forests. Habitat destruction is the biggest threat to the survival of all lemur species.

Red-bellied lemur

A male red-bellied lemur (Eulemur rubriventer) with its tail wrapped around its body, in Ialasatra, Madagascar

The red-bellied lemur is classified as vulnerable in the wild. The main threat that they face is habitat loss, with almost 90% of the eastern rainforest of Madagascar being destroyed since humans have lived on the island, mainly by slash-and-burn subsistence farming, logging and mining. In some areas there is also the threat of hunting.

Blue-eyed black lemur

Captive male (left) and female blue-eyed black lemurs (Eulemur flavifrons)

The blue-eyed black lemur (or Sclater’s lemur) is classified as critically endangered, due to hunting and habitat loss. There are thought to be just a few thousand left. These lemurs all have striking blue eyes, but males and females look very different; males are completely black, while females have a reddish-brown coat. Bristol Zoological Society works with local Malagasy organisations to protect these animals in the wild.

Black-and-white ruffed lemur

A black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata), Ankanin Ny Nofy, Madagascar

The black-and-white ruffed lemur is the largest of the true lemur family (Lemuridae) and is listed as critically endangered. The population is thought to have declined by 80% over the last 21 years, primarily due to continuing decline in extent and quality of habitat from deforestation and commercial agriculture, logging and mining, as well as hunting. This lemur lives in female-dominated groups with a complex social structure and is known for its loud, raucous calls.

Lake Alaotra gentle lemur

A Lake Alaotra gentle lemur

The Lake Alaotra gentle lemur is the only primate that lives exclusively in wetlands. Despite legal protection efforts, the population has been declining continuously since the first published census in the 1990s. They now number about 2,500 individuals, due to poaching and annual marshland burning. Reconnecting isolated subpopulations is a priority conservation measure.


An adult indri

This highly distinctive black-and-white animal is the only lemur that communicates through long, complex songs, including a group chorus. Numbers are declining due to habitat destruction for slash-and-burn agriculture, logging and fuelwood gathering, all in protected areas. Illegal hunting is also a major threat, despite the traditional tribal taboos that used to protect them; in some villages, the skins are worn as clothing and the meat fetches a premium price.

Sambirano mouse lemur

A Sambirano mouse lemur (Microcebus sambiranensis)

The Sambirano mouse lemur is one of the smallest primates in the world and is only found at a few sites in the north-west of Madagascar. We know very little about this species, but it seems to prefer to live in secondary forest, trees along water courses and the forest edge. It is believed this is because the vegetation in these locations is denser and offers more places for these tiny animals to hide.

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