(Black and white ruffed lemur (12K JPG))

Lemurs - the Best Primates!

Lemurs, the magical and endangered prosimians of Madagascar and the Comoro Islands, need all the help they can get.

Black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata variegata) Photo taken at: Duke University Primate Center

Updated: April 18, 1998

What is a Lemur?

Lemurs are primates, but not monkeys nor apes. They are a group of primates referred to often as "prosimians" (along with the lorises, bush babies, pottos and tarsiers). Lemurs are found only on Madagascar and a couple of small surrounding islands (where monkeys and apes do not occur). Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world is located off the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean.

How did I get interested in lemurs and why should you be?

I've been interested in Madagascar ever since college. But it seemed too distant (12,000 miles away), and too expensive to be anything but a place in my dreams. Then in 1989, a friend, the artist Pieter Folkiens, came to a whale party and inappropriately showed some slides of Madagascar and lemurs. A few months later, I was there, for one month, as part of a 4 person tour of much of the central and southern part of the island.

Why should you care about Madagascar when you already have plenty of other worthy causes? Well, spend some time with a few lemurs and the question will answer itself. Lemurs are amazingly charismatic and charming animals. Though perhaps not as intelligent as monkeys, they act far more mellow and less aggressive. Curious, playful, social, furry as heck, and seemingly gentle leaf-eaters, they possess a unique charm.

Ringtail lemur contemplating the meaning of life 18K JPG

Ring-tailed lemur contemplating the meaning of life. (Photo taken at Berenty, southern Madagascar)

Madagascar biodiversity and culture

Having been separated from the African mainland for more than 100 million years, Madagascar possesses one of the most unique flora and fauna of any place on earth. In evolutionary terms, it is a parallel biological universe. And a universe of enormous diversity from the rain forests of the steep eastern coast to the very dry spiny desert of the southwest.

For more information about the island's biodiversity, check out David Park's wonderful photo essay on Madagascar biodiversity on the Missouri Botanical Garden's WWW site.

Sometime around 1,000-2,000 years ago, humans first reached Madagascar. Suprizingly, they were not Africans, but instead people of basically Indonesian stock. As a result, the Malagasy language resembles Indonesian more than it does any African language, and the same is true for the people's religious beliefs. The Malagasy have formed a fascinating culture, very different from neighboring African societies. For more information, check Madagascar culture page (which I created). Off-line, to get a taste of the charm of both the people and the wildlife, I highly recommend Gerald Durrell's book, The Aye-aye and I, widely available and in paperback. (FYI - an aye-aye is a rare nocturnal lemur, until very recently very poorly known.

Milne-Edwards sifaka and baby (32k jpg)

(Milnes-Edwards sifaka and baby photo taken by me in Ranomafana National Park, 1989)

Other Information About Lemurs

Any ideas are most welcome. Send feedback to jim@sfcelticmusic.com

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