At Saunders Country Critters, two species of lemurs are on display. Pictured above are two Ring-tailed Lemurs (Lemur catta). As their name suggests, they have distinctive tails, about 60 cm (23 inches) long, ringed in black and white. When walking on all fours on the ground, they hold their tails aloft like flags. Ring-tails are the species of lemur most commonly kept in captivity. In their native Madagascar, they are found in the dry south and south-western regions, inhabiting deciduous forest with grassy undergrowth and dense scrubland. Lemurs are diurnal, active during the day. On sunny mornings, especially after a cool night, lemurs may “sunbathe”, sitting upright in the treetops with their arms outstretched or crooked on their knees, exposing their bellies to the warm rays. In lemur society, females are dominant over males.
Also represented are Black and White Ruffed Lemurs (Varecia variegata). The white ruff that gives them their name runs under the chin and around the cheeks, ending as tufts on the ears. Ruffed Lemurs are noted for their loud, raucous calls, and the lemur pictured below was pleased to demonstrate this feature. Black and White Ruffed Lemurs live in the primary and secondary rainforest in the lowlands and mid-altitude regions of Madagascar.
Lemurs are primates, found only on Madagascar, the 4th largest island in the world. Madagascar separated from Africa more than 100 million years ago. About 80% of the plants and animals found there are endemic, found nowhere else on Earth. Madagascar is so unique it is sometimes termed “The Eighth Continent”. People reached Madagascar only about 1500 years ago, but since then about a third of lemur species, (mostly the largest, most slow-moving ones) have become extinct, and about 80% of those remaining are threatened with extinction. Black and White Ruffed Lemurs are classed as Critically Endangered, meaning that they face a very high risk of extinction in the near future. Ring-tailed Lemurs are classed as Vulnerable, meaning they face a high risk of extinction in the medium-term future. The main threat to lemurs is the overpopulation of the island by impoverished humans. Lemurs suffer from the uncontrolled destruction of their forest habitat, overgrazing and wildfires, and wood collection for charcoal production. They are also subject to poaching for food and collection as pets.
Unfortunately, far from improving, the outlook for lemurs has recently taken a turn for the worst, as political turmoil has broken out on Madagascar, threatening the $400 million eco-industry, a vital source of income, and turning loose pillaging gangs in the forests.