Lemur | WWF
© Lucia Canedo Pouso


The endemic lemur Simpona fotsy (Silky sifaka).


The endemic lemur Simpona fotsy (<i>Silky sifaka</i>). rel= © Lucia Canedo Pouso

Madagascar’s spirits of the night

Lemurs are a special group of primates, which look something like a cat crossed with a squirrel and a dog, and are found only on Madagascar and the Comoro Islands. Lemurs live in a variety of habitats. Some live in moist, tropical rainforests, while others live in dry desert areas. The name lemur comes from the Latin word lemures, which means 'spirits of the night'.

The largest ever living type of lemur was the Archaeoindris with its weight ranging between 160 and 200 kg. It became extinct when humans first settled in Madagascar about 2,000 years ago.

Lemurs are prosimians, or primitive primates. They are social animals with long limbs, flexible toes and fingers, and long noses. Each type of lemur looks very different. They vary in colour from reddish brown to gray, and come in all different sizes, too.

The smallest lemur, the pygmy mouse lemur, weighs only 28 gm (1 oz). But the biggest lemurs, the Indri and Diademed Sifaka lemurs, can weigh up to 6.8 kg (15 lb), which is equivalent to a big cat. Lemurs are mainly vegetarian, generally they eat fruits and leaves. Some are nocturnal, whilst others are active during the day or at dawn.

Lemurs are often seen 'sunbathing' in a meditative type position. Because their bellies are not as protected from a colder environment, these animals will warm themselves up by basking in the sunlight before they proceed to their daily foraging activities.

Lemurs use their lower teeth, incisors and canines as a toothcomb to groom themselves as well as other members of the group. Lemurs are vocal animals, making sounds that range from the grunts and swears of brown lemurs and sifaka to the chirps of mouse lemurs to the eerie, wailing call of the indri.

Your chances of seeing one in the wild
Habitat loss is the main threat to lemurs today, as people clear their native forests for farm land. 80% of the lemur's original habitat in Madagascar has been destroyed. Out of the 50 different kinds of lemurs, 10 are critically endangered, 7 are endangered, and 19 are considered vulnerable. All types of lemurs are protected by CITES, which makes it illegal to hunt or capture lemurs for trade.