Rare indri lemur born in forest reserve in Madagascar
Rare indri lemur born in forest reserve in Madagascar
July 13, 2006
A rare lemur known for its haunting whale-like call has given birth in a reserve outside its native forest. The news is significant because the Indri, as the world’s largest living lemur is known, has traditionally done poorly when kept in captivity or introduced outside its montane forest habitat in Madagascar.
The birth occurred at Palmarium, a small private reserve of lowland tropical forest established by a tour operator in Madagascar. It is the second birth of an Indri since the opening of the park, according to Fabiola Deprez at Boogie Pilgrim, a tour operator based in the capital Antananarivo.
“The birth of an Indri indri in the Palmarium is great news for the Indris, especially since they were introduced to the area that is not their original natural habitat.” said Deprez. “The second birth of an Indri… provides further hope for the successful conservation of this highly endangered species.”
Traditionally indri are found in montane rainforests of Northeastern Madagascar. They are easiest to spot at the Andasibe Mantadia National Park (also known as Analamazaotra or Perinet). Each year thousands of tourists visit the park to catch a glimpse of this back-and-white lemur which could be said to resemble a humanoid panda.
While the indri is the largest remaining lemur — larger species existed in the past but went extinct due, in part, to hunting by humans — it is famous for its eerie, yet beautiful song which can carry for more than 1.2 miles (2 km) and is used to communicate territorial claims to other indri.
Indri lemur in Madagascar. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
The local Malagasy name for the animal, Babakoto, is derived from a legend about the origin of the Indri. Its current name “indri” is Malagasy for “Look!”.resulting from confusion of an early French naturalist.
Indri live in groups of 2 – 6 animals, usually comprised an adult pair with dependent offspring of varying ages. Like other lemurs, the female tends to be dominant.
Indri generally spend their days feeding on leaves, flowers and fruit in the forest canopy — they almost never descend to the ground, instead leaping up to 33 feet (10 m) between trees.
Adult indri have few natural predators — the fossa, a puma-like giant mongoose, and large birds of prey are the only animals that can take the 17-pound (8 kg) animal. Nevertheless, today Indri are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List due to deforestation that has destroyed most of the forests across the lemurs’ range.
Unlike other lemurs, which have long been hunted as a food source, the indri is protected by cultural taboos in many areas. Locals have traditionally believed that the species is closely related to man and killing it would bring bad luck.
The Indri is just one of more than 60 kinds of lemurs found only on the island of Madagascar. Lemurs belong to a group of primates known as prosimians that were once distributed worldwide but today have been largely replaced by monkeys. It is only because of Madagascar’s isolation that lemurs have managed to survive and flourish.
More than half a dozen species of lemurs have been described since 2000 but despite these findings, Madagascar’s lemur diversity is considerably poorer than when humans first set foot on the island about 2000 years ago. Since then, the island’s largest lemurs species have been hunted to extinction and suffered from habitat loss induced by climate change and human activities (especially land-clearing with fire).
Today Madagascar is an urgent conservation priority. President Marc Ravalomanana has pledged to protect more than 10 percent of the country’s land area by 2008 in an effort to stem deforestation and species loss as well as attract visitors interested in seeing wildlife and other natural attractions.
The planet’s most biologically diverse island is also one of the poorest countries in the world. Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island at about size the size of Texas or France, has an average per capita income of $260 among its 18 million people. About 70 percent of its population lives below the poverty line while nearly half of its children under five years of age are malnourished. In the past three years the country has nearly experienced a civil war and seen the agricultural based economy hit rock bottom during the political turmoil of the past presidential election. Nevertheless Madagascar may well be on its way to a brighter economic future thanks to a blockbuster animated movie, an innovative new aid program, and the capable leadership of the new president.
Madagascar is one of the world’s most special places. An island slightly larger than the state of California, Madagascar is home to a bewildering array of wildlife from dancing lemurs to absurdly colorful chameleons. Eighty percent of the island’s species are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else on Earth.
Until recently it was believed that Madagascar’s forests and extinct native species were primarily the victim of slash-and-agriculture by the island’s first human inhabitants. However, new research suggests other factors may have played a role in the mass extinction of Madagascar’s megafauna and decline of Madagascar’s native ecosystems.
In the dry deciduous forests of south western Madagascar there lives a lemur that loudly cusses but “dances” like a ballet performer. Verreaux’s sifaka is among the most popular of lemur species, a group of primates endemic to islands off the southeastern coast of Africa. While threatened, Verreaux’s sifaka is easily spotted in several of Madagascar’s more accessible parks.
Later this week Dreamworks releases Madagascar, an animated film depicting a group of zoo escapees who visit the island by the same name off the eastern coast of southern Africa. While the film takes certain liberties with its representation of the country, the real-life Madagascar is a fascinating place to visit. Madagascar’s wildlife is among the best in the world in terms of diversity, abundance, and approachability and travel to Madagascar for this purpose is most rewarding. Madagascar also offers spectacular landscapes, an unusual history, and a countryside full of generally friendly and wonderful people.
Bushhouse in Madagascar