Crowned sifaka population on the verge of local extinction: dispatch from the field

Josia Razafindramanana, special to mongabay.com
September 08, 2009

A small group of crowned sifaka lemurs Propithecus coronatus have been located in the corridor d’Amboloando-Dabolava, Miandrivazo district-Madagascar, but are immediately threatened with local extinction. The small, fragmented, and isolated forest shelters a group of only six adults and one baby.

Interviews with local people revealed that once several groups of the species resided in the corridor, and even last year, about 20 individuals were still found there. However, within one year, the population dropped from 20 to 6 individuals.

Hunting of the crowned sifaka is taboo in the area, but other activities, such as mining, charcoal production and logging have devastated the corridor. Currently 70 percent of the forest is degraded.

Crowned sifaka in the degraded forest. Photo by: Josia Razafindramanana.
If the crowned sifaka individuals in this area are to survive, emergency conservation action is required. Illegal exploitation of the trees in the corridor must be stopped in order to save the ecosystem and preserve the water sources along the corridor. However, another option is to implement a translocation of the few remaining crowned sifakas to nearby forests or even to zoos.

Currently, logging activity is the main threat, since the forest contains many precious trees highly valuable for trade. Large trees over 20 meters in height have disappeared in a very short time, and they continue to be cut down to clear areas for charcoal production or to be burned to extract gold from rocks. On average one tree per day is cut, resulting in a dramatic decline in forest cover.

The livelihood of the local people is gold mining. Artisanal mining occurs all over the corridor, thus forest regeneration is very low due to this exploitation by people from nearby Miandrivazo and Antananarivo.

Forest destruction. Photo by: Josia Razafindramanana.
This dwindling, perhaps doomed, population of crowned sifakas is not unique. In 30 years the crowned sifaka's population has fallen by 50 percent mainly due to a decline in habitat area and quality, despite this the species was recently downgraded from Critically Endangered to Endangered in 2008.

Besides widespread habitat destruction, hunting and live capture for the illegal pet trade also threaten remaining populations. Only a few populations of this species exist in the Antrema forest, North of Katsepy, and in Anjamena forests (Mittermeier, 2006). A recent study survey of the crowned sifaka shows a density of 48 groups/km² and 173 individuals/km² in Anjamena, using transect line sampling (Muller et al., 2000).

Crowned sifaka in captivity.
The crowned sifaka is diurnal, inhabits dry deciduous forests and is often found in mangroves, which also form an important food source. They occur in groups of two to eight individuals, with home ranges from 1.2–1.5 hectares. The crowned sifaka feeds mainly on buds, green fruits and mature leaves. While there have been only a few studies of his species, it is known that they reproduce seasonally with females giving birth every 2-3 years. Compared to other lemurs, their reproductive potential is very slow (Curtis, 1998) making recovery of populations even more problematic.

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Josia Razafindramanana, special to mongabay.com (September 08, 2009).

Crowned sifaka population on the verge of local extinction: dispatch from the field.