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Every year on the last Friday of October, lemurs take centre stage with World Lemur Day.
With 98% percent of lemur species under threat, several years ago a conservation programme was started on Necker Island, aimed at preserving these magnificent creatures. With a similar climate to Madagascar, seven species have thrived here and are fast on their way to becoming Necker Island’s most famous residents.
We caught up with island's Wildlife Team to discover what makes these primates so unique and why it is so important to protect them.
Lemurs call Madagascar home. Located 250 miles off the southeast coast of Africa, the world’s fourth largest island is the only habitat for wild lemurs in the world. It is thought they came to the island as castaways millions of years ago, hitching what must have been a bumpy ride on rafts of vegetation floating across the Indian Ocean.
Incredibly diverse, there are over 112 known lemur species with new ones discovered regularly. With little competition for food and not too many predators around, lemurs dispersed across Madagascar settling in different habitats, evolving into several species. The smallest, Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur weighs on average 30g – the same as a small lightbulb – while Indri Lemurs are the largest of the living lemurs and can weight up to 9.5kg. It is thought the now extinct Giant Lemur certainly lived up to its name, weighing up to 85kg – the size of a gorilla!
The species calling Necker Island home are the instantly recognisable Ring-Tailed Lemur, the Red-Collared Brown Lemur, the highly mischievous Red Ruffed Lemur, the friendly Black-and-White-Red Ruffed Lemur, the Red-Fronted Brown Lemur, the Mongoose Lemur and the White-Fronted Brown Lemur.
Lemurs have been around for a long time. Considered the world’s oldest primates, lemurs roamed Africa alongside the dinosaurs over 70 million years ago. They are known as prosimians and evolved long before monkeys and apes.
Blue irises are a rare sight in the mammal world and Blue-Eyed Black Lemurs, also called Sclater’s Lemurs, are one of the only non-human primates with naturally occurring blue-eyes. Blue-Eyed Black Lemurs are now critically endangered and live in the subtropical humid forest of the Sahamalaza peninsula in northwest Madagascar where conservation efforts are underway to preserve this precious species.
Rare in the animal kingdom, in lemur society female leaders take centre stage, directing the social group and making sure theirs is a peaceful one. Unlike other primate species, female lemurs have the same physical characteristics and are the same size as their male counterparts, so it is a little harder to tell them apart. Found on Necker Island, the Red-Collared Brown Lemurs are one of the only communities where males lead.
Ring-tailed Lemurs have a unique way of communicating. Using the scent glands in their wrist and chest, a male will mix secretions from both glands to create his own potent scent marking his territory. During mating season, this comes in particularly handy when dealing with a male rival. Lifting their tails, males will enter a ‘stink fight’ wafting the strong smells in each other’s faces until it gets too much for one of them and they retreat in search of fresh air.
Lemurs see the forest as their own personal pharmacy. Female sifakas will feast on plants rich in poisonous tannins in the weeks prior to giving birth. Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs often munch on millipedes to deal with gut issues caused by parasites. Scientists have observed these lemurs appearing rather merry afterwards, enjoying the side effects of their medicinal fix.
Vital to the eco-system, lemurs are seed dispersers, helping maintain forest structure and diversity. As they search for their favourite treats such as fruits and nectars, pollen and seeds get stuck to their fur, passing these onto other flowers as they move around the forest. Once they are done feasting on fruit and nature has its way, seeds are also passed through their digestive system, crucial to maintaining many of Madagascar’s native tree and plant species.
The Indri, one of the largest lemur species, can really hold a tune. With their unexpected sense of rhythm, scientists recently discovered that these primates will often burst out into a song with their family members. Be it duets or choruses their songs feature various sounds set to a distinct beat, coming together as a talented a cappella group.
The Sifaka Lemur from Southern Madagascar is often referred to as the dancing lemur. Primarily a tree-dweller, Sifakas have splayed feet which means when they move across open ground, they sashay on their hind legs with arms aloft, putting on quite the ballet performance as they move between habitats. Not just known for their dance skills, Sifakas are famous for their excellent leaping abilities from tree to tree in Madagascar’s spiny forest where every branch is covered with sharp spines.
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