The Many Looks of Lemurs: Endemic to Madagascar, but Favorites in Zoos Worldwide

Updated on March 8, 2018
Casey White profile image

Dorothy McKenney is a former newspaper reporter turned researcher. Her husband, Mike, is a professional landscape/nature photographer.

This silky sifakas lemur (Propithecus candidus)  is one of the rarest mammals on the planet.  They are known as "ghosts of the forest" and are found only on the island of Madagascar.  People are the greatest threat to its existence.
This silky sifakas lemur (Propithecus candidus) is one of the rarest mammals on the planet. They are known as "ghosts of the forest" and are found only on the island of Madagascar. People are the greatest threat to its existence. | Source

Lemurs are a type of arboreal primate called a prosimian, and you may never get a chance to see one out in the wild - unless you plan to visit the island of Madagascar off the coast of Africa, where they are endemic.

Luckily, however, you might just get to see one or more in captivity in larger zoos across the world. Coquerel's sifakas, for example, can be seen at the huge San Diego Zoo in California (about 100 acres), along with blue-eyed black, red ruffed, red-collared, and ring-tailed lemurs.

The Oakland Zoo, also in California, and the Houston Zoo in Texas both have lemurs at their facilities according to their websites.

According to the Lemur Conservation Network the following zoos also have lemurs:

  • The Akron Zoo, in Akron, Ohio
  • Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida
  • Cotswold Wildlife Park in Bradwell Grove, England
  • Naples Zoo in Naples, Florida
  • NaturZoo Rheine in Rheine, Germany
  • Parc Zoologique Ivoloina and Reniala Sarl Park, both in Madagascar
  • Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.
  • Zoo Zürich in in Zürich, Switzerland

Red-Ruffed and Blue-Eyed Black Lemurs

Red-ruffed (Varecia rubra) lemurs, such as the one here, are extremely vocal, having the ability to make about a dozen calls, which are often used to warn other lemurs of potential predators.
Red-ruffed (Varecia rubra) lemurs, such as the one here, are extremely vocal, having the ability to make about a dozen calls, which are often used to warn other lemurs of potential predators.
This is a photograph of a male and female,  critically-endangered, blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons), the only non-human primate with blue eyes.
This is a photograph of a male and female, critically-endangered, blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons), the only non-human primate with blue eyes.

Duke University Lemur Center

While lemurs are not technically living "in the wild," outside of Madagascar, the closest thing to it can be found at the Duke University Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina, where they are allowed to roam freely (as long as the temperature stays over 45 degrees Fahrenheit) on several acres of fenced-in woods. The center has the world’s largest and most diverse collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar.

The lemurs are trained to come when summoned for medical check-ups, weather emergencies, etc. for their own safety.

Note: Learn about the Adopt a Lemur program at the center by clicking here.

The center is located at 3705 Erwin Road in Durham, less than 10 minutes from Duke’s West Campus, and tours are available by appointment. There are nine different, distinct types of tours available, catering to all ages and interest levels.

Golden-Crowned Sifaka Lemurs

This is the easily-recognizable, endangered golden-crowned sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli) lemur, the smallest of the sifaka species.  Its hairless black face is drawn into a triangular muzzle.  It is also known as Tattersall's sifaka.
This is the easily-recognizable, endangered golden-crowned sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli) lemur, the smallest of the sifaka species. Its hairless black face is drawn into a triangular muzzle. It is also known as Tattersall's sifaka. | Source

Sifaka Lemurs and Their Unique Habitats

There are several different species of sifaka lemurs, and they are all strikingly beautiful creatures but they tend to live in different areas of the island of Madagascar. Each region of the island has drastically different climates because of the wind currents from the ocean; and the land is divided by large, volcanic mountain ranges. Each sifaka habitat is unique. For example:

  • The silky sifaka lives in the tropical forests of northeastern Madagascar in an area of extreme moisture.
  • The Coquerel's sifaka lives in the northwestern forests of Madagascar (just across the island from the silky sifaka).
  • The Verreaux's sifaka lives in the spiny forest and dry forests located in the southern part of the island.

As you can see, the island of Madagascar, (the world's fourth-largest island with an area over 200,000 square miles), is unlike any other place on our planet.

Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur

This is a handsome black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata).  According to http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com, this guy has a life expectancy of about 19 years. The tuxedo colors are in stark contrast to its bright yellow eyes.
This is a handsome black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata). According to http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com, this guy has a life expectancy of about 19 years. The tuxedo colors are in stark contrast to its bright yellow eyes.

The Collared Brown Lemur

The collared brown lemur (Eulemur collaris) is only one of 12 species of brown lemurs in the world.  A male has different colors of brown and red on top of its head whereas the top of a female's head is only light brown.
The collared brown lemur (Eulemur collaris) is only one of 12 species of brown lemurs in the world. A male has different colors of brown and red on top of its head whereas the top of a female's head is only light brown.

Von der Decken's Sifaka Lemur

This is the face of the extremely rare and endangered Von der Decken's sifaka lemur (Propithecus deckenii).  This stunning photograph was taken by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore.
This is the face of the extremely rare and endangered Von der Decken's sifaka lemur (Propithecus deckenii). This stunning photograph was taken by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. | Source

Some Lemurs Are Large; Some Are Small

The Indri lemur (scientific name Indri indri) is the largest of the lemurs and is the only lemur with green eyes and no tail.  This photo was taken at the Analamazaotra Reserve in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Madagascar.
The Indri lemur (scientific name Indri indri) is the largest of the lemurs and is the only lemur with green eyes and no tail. This photo was taken at the Analamazaotra Reserve in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Madagascar.
This is a tiny, gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus).  According to a recent article on Smithsonian.com, they are under constant pressure due to the continuing loss of their forest habitat, causing stress that is threatening their survival.
This is a tiny, gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus). According to a recent article on Smithsonian.com, they are under constant pressure due to the continuing loss of their forest habitat, causing stress that is threatening their survival.

Facts About the Gray Mouse Lemur

According to researchers at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC, a lemur’s boldness or shyness may have been passed down along its family tree (referring to a behavioral experiment the center conducted with gray mouse lemurs). Here are some more interesting facts about this tiny primate (no, it's not a rodent):

  • They are the largest of the mouse lemurs (although still one of the smallest primates in the world).
  • They feed on plants, insects, and even small vertebrates.
  • They are nocturnal and spend most of the day resting in tree holes.
  • It's hard to distinguish males from females because they show almost no sexual dimorphism.
  • They are said to have a promiscuous mating system with a breeding season that runs from March to September.
  • On the ground, this lemur moves in a frog-like fashion, but in the trees, it leaps about using its hind legs in a springing motion.
  • They will live significantly longer in captivity than in the wild, where they have many predators, including birds of prey, owls, mammals such as mongooses, and snakes.

Coquerel's Sifaka Lemur

If you visit the San Diego (California) Zoo, you might get a glimpse of a Coquerel's sifaka lemur (Propithecus coquereli) like this one.  These striking guys spring through the trees using the strength of their back legs.
If you visit the San Diego (California) Zoo, you might get a glimpse of a Coquerel's sifaka lemur (Propithecus coquereli) like this one. These striking guys spring through the trees using the strength of their back legs.

Ring-Tailed Lemur Facts

Ring-tailed lemurs are listed as "endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of their vanishing habitat (they are found only on the island of Madagascar and some tiny neighboring islands). Here are some interesting facts about this unusual primate:

  • They are herbivores, eating mostly fruit, but they also eat leaves, flowers, tree bark and sap.
  • They use their hands and feet to move through the trees, but cannot grip with their tails.
  • They have a life-span of up to 18 years.
  • They usually weigh from five to seven pounds.
  • They mark their territory by scent, and unlike most lemurs, spend a lot of time on the ground.
  • Both male and female ring-tailed lemurs live together in varying size groups of up to 30, called "troops," with a dominant female presiding over the whole group.

Ring-Tailed Lemurs

Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) - you can find some of these cute - yet endangered - primates at the Oakland Zoo in California.
Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) - you can find some of these cute - yet endangered - primates at the Oakland Zoo in California. | Source
In case you haven't guessed the name of this one - it's called the aye-aye lemur (Daubentonia madagascariensis).  This is the only primate that uses echolocation to find food. They tap, tap, tap with their unique, long middle finger.
In case you haven't guessed the name of this one - it's called the aye-aye lemur (Daubentonia madagascariensis). This is the only primate that uses echolocation to find food. They tap, tap, tap with their unique, long middle finger.

The Western Fork-Marked Lemur

The western fork-marked lemur (Phaner pallescens) was only discovered in 2010.  The photographer that captured this one has some amazing photos of lemur here:  http://web.stanford.edu/~siegelr/animalz/lemur.html#phaner - copy and paste address.
The western fork-marked lemur (Phaner pallescens) was only discovered in 2010. The photographer that captured this one has some amazing photos of lemur here: http://web.stanford.edu/~siegelr/animalz/lemur.html#phaner - copy and paste address. | Source

References

  1. No author named, Meet the Lemurs. Retrieved 2/14/2018 from http://lemur.duke.edu
  2. Krystal D'Costa, What Can Social Behavior in Lemurs Tell Us About Ourselves? Retrieved 2/14/2018 from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com
  3. Kate Baggaley (2013), Lemurs Have Quirks Too. Retrieved from http://www.audubon.org 02/15/2018

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

    Comments

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      • sangre profile image

        Sp Greaney 

        6 months ago from Ireland

        It's always fascinating to read more information on a creature that you've seen on wildlife documentaries. Nice hub.

      • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

        6 months ago from United States

        Thank you Alex.

      • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

        6 months ago from United States

        Thank you so much!

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 

        6 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        Incredible Lemurs! I like the photos and facts presented with this hub. They are adorable and have beautiful fur.

      • Guckenberger profile image

        Alexander James Guckenberger 

        6 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

        very good article

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