All lemurs are classified as endangered due to habitat loss and being hunted for food. The aye aye is also persecuted because of superstitious reasons. So important are the lemur species to the world that Madagascar actually has about 21% of all primate genus.
Madagascar’s primates are an old order (Strepsirhini) that also would include pottos and bush babies on other continents. Lemurs only exist today because Madagascar broke away from Gondwanaland and is completely isolated from Africa and Asia.
The Indri is the largest lemur and one of the best places to see them is in the Andasibe forest where their piercing calls send screeching cries through the morning forest walks (they only call in the morning hence this is the best time to find them).
Ringtail lemurs swagger through the drier forests of the south with long stripy tails held high in the air looking comical - yet on the move with a determined purpose! Ringtails have a dominant female. Sifaka are also interesting to watch as they gracefully bounce, dance and sashay across the ground when it is not possible to jump from tree to tree.
Some lemurs are nocturnal, others diurnal, they form social groups or live fairly quiet lives. One family includes the smallest of lemurs – the pygmy dwarf lemur whilst others have lovely names including the fat tailed dwarf lemur, Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, sportive lemur, bamboo and furry eared dwarf lemurs. Certain species are very specific to their area - Ambre Mountain fork crowned lemur, for example.
There are five families of lemurs - four of which have several species within and one on its own – the Aye Aye (Daubentoniidae sp) which is the most curious looking of lemurs. This charming animal has black, coarse ‘unkempt’ hair, googly eyes and a very long finger on its hand that it uses to tap the tree bark searching for grubs in narrow holes which it then digs out. New species of lemur are still being discovered.
Of the 250,000 species on the island, about 70% are endemic, including tenrecs, chameleons and fossa. Fossas look like a cross between a dog and a cat, but are in fact these feisty animals are related to the mongoose family. Fossa and Madagascar hawk harriers predate on lemurs, mostly in the southern drier areas.
Madagascar also has an incredible number of different chameleons - from the smallest to the largest on the planet – smallest being only a couple of centimetres long! This small chameleon was only recently discovered in the fallen brown leaves on the forest floor. Two thirds of all chameleon species occur in Madagascar.
One curious creature found in the tropical forests is the giraffe beetle – it has a black and red body – this sweet curiosity has three parts to him – looking like a delicate crane with an eye on top.
Of course there are many more species besides lemurs – there are over 300 different birds - over half are endemic. There are over 100 species of fish and even 650 species of endemic snail! Unique butterflies and dragonflies, bugs and leeches – Madagascar is a must for anyone interested in nature.
Images by courtesy of Kamili