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The Lemurs of Madagascar

The Lemurs of Madagascar

Ring-tailed Lemur

Madagascar is known across the globe for its lemurs, which resemble a mix between a cat, a squirrel, and a dog. These species are only found on the island and exhibit a variety of fascinating habits, like singing like a whale (the Indri) and sashaying across the sand like a ballet dancer (the sifaka). More information on these interesting animals may be found here.

History of the lemur:

The primary kind of primate found across the world, and the Haplorhini suborder is absent from Madagascar (monkeys, chimps, gorillas, and Homo sapiens). Instead, the lemurs, an older group of primates, have stepped in to fill their need. Lemurs are members of the Strepsirhini suborder, like bushbabies, lorises, and pottos are nocturnal, insectivorous primates with a tiny bodies, long snouts, and big eyes, similar to the original lemurs. Lemurs have an intriguing evolutionary history, and Madagascar’s isolation is the sole reason they still exist today.

Madagascar was once part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland, which was connected to the African mainland until about 160 million years ago (formed of Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, India, and Madagascar). Madagascar migrated away from Africa when Gondwanaland disintegrated. Around 60 million years ago, the first lemur-like primates arrived in mainland Africa and moved over to Madagascar shortly after.

The island continued to move eastward, and by the time monkeys arrived 17-23 million years ago, Madagascar was completely cut off from the rest of the world. Monkeys, being extremely clever and adaptable primates, pushed the lemur lineage to extinction everywhere in the globe (a few Strepsirhines, such as bushbabies, lorises, and pottos, managed to cling on by preserving their nocturnal, solitary, and insectivorous characteristics).

Madagascar’s lemurs, cut off from the rest of the world’s evolutionary changes, spread into the huge island’s various niches with little competition or predation. Lemurs may now be found in almost every environment in Madagascar, and they share some of the social and behavioral traits of monkeys (i.e., forming social groups, eating fruit and vegetation, and being active during the day).

Upper primates did not arrive in Madagascar until some 2,000 years ago when they learned to cross the high seas and landed on boats. Humans immediately set to work on Madagascar’s lemurs, decreasing the island’s species count by at least 15%. The biggest species suffered the most, and the Indri, which would have been dwarfed by the gorilla-sized species previously prevalent on the island, is now the largest remaining lemur. Almost all lemur species are currently endangered, owing to habitat degradation (deforestation) and poaching.

Lemurs in the present day

There are around 110 species of lemurs in Madagascar, divided into five groups and 14 taxa, with sizes ranging from the 25-gram pygmy mouse lemur to the Indri. All of these species are native to Madagascar (although two lemur species have been brought to Comoros), giving Madagascar the distinction of having the most primate species (Brazil, which has 77 species but only two endemic genera and no endemic families, is second). And new species are continually being discovered: 39 new species were described between 2000 and 2008.

The importance of Madagascar’s lemurs on a global scale

According to Russell Mittermeier in The Eighth Continent, Madagascar «is only one of 92 countries with wild primate populations, but it is responsible for 21 percent (14 of 65) of all primate genera and 36 percent (five of 14) of all primate families, making it the single highest priority» for primate conservation.

Behavior

Non-scientists categorize lemurs according to whether they are active during the day or at night. Nocturnal lemurs are generally smaller and more solitary than diurnal lemurs. Brown lemurs and sifaka make grunts and curses, while mouse lemurs chirp and the Indri makes a strange, wailing call that has been compared as a mix between a police siren and the song of a humpback whale.

The Red-fronted Lemur

The Red-fronted Lemur

The Red-fronted lemur is medium-sized lemur with a long tail, the red-fronted lemur (Eulemur rufifrons) differs in appearance between the sexes. Although the male and female don’t differ in size, the male red-fronted lemur exhibits a gray to grey-brown coat with a bushy reddish-brown crown on the head, while the female has a reddish-brown coat and a dark crown.

Both sexes have paler underparts, white patches above the eyes, and a black muzzle, often with a dark line extending up onto the crown.

The ears of the red-fronted lemur are not prominent, and its eyes are usually orange-red. All infant red-fronted lemurs show male colouration for the first three to four months of life.

Until recently, the red-fronted lemur was considered to be a secondary name for the red-fronted brown lemur (Eulemur rufus), which was itself previously considered to be a subspecies of the brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus). However, evidence now strongly suggests that the red-fronted lemur is a distinct species.

The Top 10 Nature Parks to Experience Madagascar’s Incredible Wildlife

The Top 10 Nature Parks to Experience Madagascar’s Incredible Wildlife

A jewel of the western Indian Ocean, the Island of Madagascar holds the World record in endemic species. Its treasures are conserved and protected by natural parks and reserves across the country. We gave our local naturalists the task of selecting the top 10 Nature Preserves in Madagascar to help you plan your dream wildlife adventure.    

The Berenty Reserve

This small private reserve lies 56 miles west of Fort Dauphin in the unique spiny forest, also known as the spiny thickets. The De Heaulme family created it 70 years ago to protect 618 acres encompassing spiny forest and dry tamarind gallery woodland along the Mandrare river. The reserve is home to six species of lemur including the beautiful sauntering ring-tailed lemurs and “dancing” Verreaux sifakas. You will also be able to observe the largest colony of Madagascar fruit bats in the south. Take a cultural break and enjoy a riveting museum depicting the life of the local tribe, the Antandroy, and a re-built Antandroy village.

The Nahampoana Reserve

Formerly named the Garden of Acclimatization, the Nahampoana Reserve covers 123.5 acres and is located east of Fort Dauphin. Hiking trails wind through the many exotic plants that can be found on the island, including the Madagascar Pitcher Plant, Lemon Eucalyptus, and young Baobab Trees. Visitors will also enjoy the Triangle Palm Tree, which is unique to the Fort Dauphin area. Every lemur species native to the south of Madagascar lives in this park. Other exciting animals in the park include chameleons, tortoises, crocodiles and a wide variety of birds.

The Kirindy Reserve

Privately managed by a Swiss company, the Kirindy Reserve lies 31 miles northeast of Morondava. This protected area holds one of the most threatened habitats in Madagascar, the dry deciduous forest. Dominated by majestic baobab trees and a 46 foot high forest canopy, here you will find the giant jumping rat, the smallest known primate that hops like a miniature kangaroo, seven species of lemurs, and one of their main predators, the fossa. The remaining species here are nocturnal, such as the rare Coquerel’s giant mouse lemur, and five other lemur species. This magnificent forest also hosts several bats, tenrecs, mongooses, and over fifty reptile species. The flora is also quite unusual and contains several locally endemic plant species including baobabs that reach unbelievable heights.

The Andasibe & Mantadia National Park

South-east of the capital city, we find the Andasibe National Park which is divided in two 2 areas: the smaller Analamazaotra Special Reserve and the much larger Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. Andasibe-Mantadia contains a dense humid forest covered with moss, fern tress and more than a hundred orchids species blooming between September and January. Deforestation and graphite mines have been a threat to the conservation of this area. The special guest here is the Indri Indri Lemur whose call can be heard in the early mornings and late afternoons. They are the largest living lemurs reaching up to 3 feet tall, and are unique in being the only lemur with a short tail. Among the many unique reptiles in this national park, you will find the Madagascar tree boa.

The Lokobe National Park

Found on the island of Nosy Be, the Lokobe National Park covers around 28.5 square miles of the Sambirano Forest. This humid evergreen forest is the last remaining natural habitat for the endangered black lemur. In this reserve, you can also find other nocturnal lemur species such as the gray-backed sportive lemur. Endemic birds such as the Madagascar pygmy kingfisher or the Madagascar Long-eared owl can also be found here. Palms are the most widespread plant species as well as some precious woods. Keep your eye out for the rare black lemur, the females are particularly gorgeous with their deep red fur.

The Tanikely Reserve

Located in the south of Nosy Be, this island is a dream destination for biologists, underwater photographers and travellers with its untouched white beaches and beautiful weather. This tiny island is a wonderful diving spot where you can observe thousands of reef fish, sea turtles, and leaf fish of all colours. Between November and December, whale sharks feed near the island, while humpback whales can be seen migrating through the area during July and August.

The Tsingy de Bemaraha Natural Park

The spectacular mineral forest of Tsingy de Bemaraha stands on the western coast of Madagascar. This protected area of 608 square miles has been designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO since 1990. Tsingy is the Malagasy means “walking on tiptoes” and the nearly impenetrable labyrinth of limestone needles justifies this name. The reserve is formed by canyons, gorges, undisturbed forests, lakes and mangrove swamps with an astonishing richness of fauna and flora. Reaching this park involves a rough ten hour drive, and in the park, the trails are difficult and demanding. It is recommended that you have hiking experience.

The Ranomafana National Park

Situated in eastern Madagascar, the Ranomafana (hot waters) National Park lays over a mountainous terrain of dense forests. This is the habitat of the endangered golden bamboo lemur which was discovered by Dr. Patricia Wright in 1986. Wildlife is rich in this park, with many unique bat, mongoose, and bird species to be seen. The threatened crested ibis is one of the beautiful birds you might come across.

Apart from that, there is a wide array of reptiles, butterflies, and spiders. Prepare to be impressed by the flora in the Ranomafana National Park with its pretty orchids and medicinal plants.

The Isalo National park

Located southwest of Antananarivo, the Isalo National Park protects 315 square miles of sandstone wildly eroded by wind and rain into bizarre ridges featuring primitive forms, impressive gorges, and canyons. 

Here the flora is more impressive than the fauna; several local endemic plants, such as the elephant’s foot, have been discovered among the 500 species which are found in Isalo. While the wildlife is not as prominent as other parks of the country, there are still many species worth seeing, including the ring-tailed lemurs and the brown lemurs. Keep your eyes peeled for the many species of birds, such as the rare Benson’s rock-thrush and  the knob-billed duck.

The Zombitse & Vohlbasia Natural Park

Based in the southwest of Madagascar, the Zobitse and Vohlbasia Natural Park covers 140 square miles of dry forest, marshes, and savannahs. This park personifies the biggest environmental threat in Madagascar, deforestation, with only a patch of protected forest remaining amongst the devastation. The patch gives shelter biodiversity divided into three different sections: Zombitse, Vohibasia,and Vohimena Isoky. Zombitse-Vohibasia acts as a transitional zone between the dry and humid forests of Madagascar. As with all of the countries beautiful parks, there are many lemurs, bright birds, and picturesque orchids.

Madagascar’s natural parks reserve the most endemic, rare and remarkable wildlife. Every day brings new fauna and flora encounters, it seems never to end! In most of the parks, wildlife is not afraid of humans, making your experience rich with animal encounters. There is no other place in the world like Madagascar for natural history expeditions and wildlife photography.

This article is part of the complete guide to Madagascar. Download it now for free!

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The genus Adansonia -Baobabs- are found only in Madagascar (seven species), continental Africa (two species), the Arabian Peninsula (two species), and Australia (one species)

Of the seven species in Madagascar, six are endemic to the Island. This endemic includes the tallest and oldest of them all, the Giant Baobab, also known as Grandidier’s baobab (Adansonia grandidieri). I am sure you have seen them more than once in magazines and documentaries photographed or filmed at the famous Avenue of the Baobabs.

This iconic and beautiful destination is just an hour and a few minutes’ drive away from the charming coastal town of Morondava in western Madagascar.

Baobabs are unique in many ways. Not only their shape, size, and age set them apart (They can live well over 1000 years!), but also their capacity to resist bush fires. It is common to see burned fields with the giants standing in the middle, unchanged in any discernible way. Despite their impressive resistance and the fact that locals have very little use of their barks and none for their trunks, Giant Baobabs are an endangered species due to habitat loss and the lack of seed dispersers.

Today, multiple projects in Madagascar work on the reproduction and planting of Baobabs of all seven species.

These efforts started timidly a few decades ago, just around the same time that New Paths Expeditions initiated its safari operations in Madagascar. Gladly, about five years ago, such projects have multiplied considerably, a bet on a very distant future considering the growth rates of the species.

During New Paths expeditions in Madagascar, we include two visits to the Avenue of the Baobabs, one during the daytime and another one at sunset time. All our explorers are invited, at no extra cost, to plant a giant Baobab in the area.

By the way, New Paths Expeditions offers a free return trip to Madagascar to all explorers that plant a Baobab, so they can see the tree they planted when its riches its prime, some 1000 years in the future 🙂

If you are interested in seeing the Giant Baobabs in their natural habitat, help in their reproduction, observe in the wild 14 species of lemurs (including the Indri-Indri -the largest of all lemurs, the Madame Berthe’s lemur -the smallest primate in the world,) foosas, and many other endemics of the Island, check our pioneering and award-winning expedition.

We are glad to announce our recently improved itinerary has reduced even more the drives over bad roads thanks to a new charter flight from Berenty Reserve, the paradise for Ring-tailed and Dancing lemurs, to Morondava, the coastal town close to the Avenue of the Baobabs and door to Kirindy forest, the most threatened habitat on Earth.

Check the itinerary, and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our 15 years of experience in Madagascar is always at your service.

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The Dancing Lemurs (Verreaux’s Sifakas) of Madagascar

The Dancing Lemurs (Verreaux’s Sifakas) of Madagascar

Madagascar, the Island of endemics, holds the record of endemic species. Of course, Lemurs are the most famous animals that inhabit the Island, and most travelers search for them during a Madagascar Safari.

Of the 101 species and subspecies of Lemurs that exist (The number is approximated since scientists are still debating the taxonomy of the animal), one that most visitors expect to see in the wild during a Madagascar tour is the Verreaux’s Sifaka Lemur, also known as “dancing lemur.” They obtain this name thanks to how they move on the earth, a very choreographed way of “walking,” which is quite amusing to observe.

Dancing Lemurs Details 

Their range includes the wet tropical rainforests to the dry spiny forests of Madagascar.

The Verreaux’s Sifaka Lemur is medium in size compared to other lemurs species and is the only one with hands and feet slightly webbed.

Their white body fur, black face, and big eyes make them quite attractive. They have a very long tail, up to 24 inches (longer than their body size!), which helps balance when leaping from tree to tree and when “dancing” on the ground.

They are about 18 inches in height when they reach maturity and can weigh from 7 to 8 pounds, with the males usually being larger than the females. They have dental differences that set them apart from other species of Lemurs.

The Verreaux’s Sifaka Lemur lives in mixed groups of up to 12 individuals; 2 or 3 males, 2 or 3 females, and their offsprings.

The female is sexually mature around the age of 3 and can have 1 (most of the time) to 2 babies per litter. The young hold on to the mother’s belly for 3 to 4 weeks and then ride on her back. It is entirely independent at seven months. Their average lifespan is 18 years.

They usually feed themselves twice a day, once in the early morning and again in the late afternoon. They will rest during the remains of the day. They mainly eat leaves and various items, including twigs, bark, nuts, and fruits.

A Vulnerable Species

The beautiful Verreaux’s Sifaka Lemur is a primate that has a grim future. Nowadays, they are categorized as vulnerable because of the rapid destruction of their natural habitat that represents the primary threat to them and all the lemurs in Madagascar. An excellent way to support this and other endangered species of Madagascar is visiting the Island. New Paths Expeditions includes the national parks and private reserves that have proven their conservation efforts success in its Madagascar Expeditions.

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