Looking for Lemurs

The Lemur Species of Wildlife Madagascar’s Program Field Sites

By Dr. Tim Eppley

We at Wildlife Madagascar are excited that we are now in the process of developing our first program sites. They are: Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve in the northeast, Amboasary An’Ala in the central-east, and Namoroka National Park in the northwest. These incredible sites are all very different from one another and offer so many options for scientific study and species conservation. From lowland rainforest, to high-elevation rainforest, to dry deciduous forest scattered throughout limestone karst canyons, each is home to beautiful habitats and amazing animals.

Anjanaharibe Sud Special Reserve
Amboasary AnAla
Namoroka National Park

Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot that is known for its unique wildlife. Of course, some of its most well-known animal residents are lemurs. The ring-tailed lemur is perhaps Madagascar’s most iconic lemur species, but there are actually 112 lemur species, across 5 taxonomic families! We’ve determined that each of our Wildlife Madagascar sites has at least 10 lemur species present. Plus, there continue to be advances in population genetic studies and taxonomy, so there is the very real possibility that new species may be discovered in the near future. That’s a very exciting prospect.

Pale fork-marked lemur ©Allan Hopkins

Lemurs Need Help

Despite their diversity, though, lemurs are the most threatened mammal group on Earth. On the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, 98% of lemur species are listed as threatened with extinction. That listing means experts have assessed a species and found it qualifies for one of the three threatened categories: Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable.

Of the 25 lemur species we have in Wildlife Madagascar’s program sites, 23 are considered threatened with extinction (see chart below). Specifically, 5 are listed as Critically Endangered, 6 are listed as Endangered, and 12 are listed as Vulnerable. I’ve compiled a list of all the species in the table below.

As part of Wildlife Madagascar’s Biodiversity Protection and Wildlife Monitoring program, we plan to establish long-term monitoring of the target species at each site. This program will allow us to collect vital behavioral and feeding ecology data. We can use that to evaluate seasonal and annual shifts in how these species interact with their environment.

Where to Start?

Our first phase will focus on the larger, diurnal (day-active) and/or cathemeral (day and night active) species. The first step is the habituation process: researchers will follow lemur groups until they become used to us watching them. Once they are going about their day and not paying attention to us, we can collect more accurate data on what they eat, how they interact, and where they go. In Anjanaharibe-Sud, we plan to establish an indri and a silky sifaka team. In Amboasary An’Ala, it will be an indri and a diademed sifaka team. And in Namoroka, we’ll create a van der Decken’s sifaka and a red brown lemur team.

Indri ©Vijay Barve
Silky sifaka ©Berenty
Diademed sifaka ©Fran Wiesner
van der Deckens sifaka ©Daniel Branch
Red brown lemur ©pfaucher
Aye aye ©Frank Vassen

There are also some nocturnal species that we eventually hope to establish monitoring teams for. But for the time being, we will conduct nocturnal lemur surveys to simply gain a better understanding of where these species are and what microhabitats they are using. The species of particular interest to us are aye-aye (found in all three sites), hairy-eared dwarf lemurs (found in the two eastern rainforest sites), and Tsiombikibo sportive lemurs and pale fork-marked lemurs (found in Namoroka). All our sites have a wealth of threatened nocturnal lemur species, many of which have never been studied in the wild. There is a possibility for creating future research projects to study those, as well.


Building the Team

We have been working on contracts with all the formal land managers (for example, Madagascar National Parks) and other regional partners of the sites. Our next steps are to build up our local research teams. This will include training highly motivated local individuals interested in protecting their nearby forests and wildlife.

The training will involve data collection methods, how to use GPS, and how to measure various habitat and climatic variables. We will also be training Malagasy university students that can lead these teams for portions of the year, and later analyze the data for their theses and/or dissertations. We aim to start these projects early next year (2024). Hopefully, each will become a well-oiled machine within the first six months. We have so much to look forward to!