Remember ‘King Julien’ from Madagascar?
The ring-tailed lemur, who rocked his butt singing ‘I like to move it, move it’ in Madagascar 5? Wasn’t he admirable?
Well, we must thank DreamWorks Animation for bringing him into our lives.
This famous American computer-animated comedy film series received so much applause for sympathizing our generation with wild species and featuring many animals who are on the verge of extinction.
Ring tailed lemurs, one of the most beautiful wild species with their equally attractive long tail, come under the ‘endangered’ category of the list. Sadly, as reported by IUCN, populations of this lemur species have been gradually decreasing due to habitat loss, hunting, capturing alive for the illegal pet trade, and bushmeat.
Like all other lemurs, Ring tailed lemurs are natively found in the wilds of Madagascar, the fourth largest island of the World. In the Malagasy Language, the Ring tailed lemur is also known as ‘Maky’ or ‘Hira’.
Every year, World Lemur Day is celebrated on the last Friday of October that focuses on safeguarding this endangered species against all ill-doings.
The country of Madagascar organizes the Lemur Festival on that very day with lots of learnings to know about lemur species, like ring tailed lemurs, black-and-white ruffed lemurs, collared brown lemurs, and many more!
One good thing about the festival is that it aims at raising awareness among Mongabay Kids on the country’s rich natural heritage. The celebration of this year (29th October 2021) took a new height when Madagascar Post Office announced six new lemur stamps.
1. What does Science say about Ring-tailed Lemur?
Our real-world runs on science and, we all are part of it. It is always good to grasp all available scientific information about any wild species. It helps us to develop a better human-nature interaction, making our world a better place to live in.
Before opening their world to you, let’s get into what science says about Ring tailed lemurs.
As recorded in Linnaeus (1758), Ring tailed lemurs are known as ‘Lemur Catta‘ and belong to the class of ‘Mammalia’. They come from the same order of ‘Primates’ like prosimians, monkeys, apes, and humans.
‘Lemur Catta’ possess some unique characteristics, generally not found in other wild primates. The scientific family to which this lemur species belong is ‘Lemuidae’ or ‘Lemurs’ in laymen’s language. Their ‘genus’ is ‘Lemur’ and, the species is called ‘Catta’.
You can find the detailed scientific classification of ring tailed lemur and other lemur species here.
2. Physical Appearance of Ring-tailed lemurs
How to spot a Ring-tailed lemur?
You can sight them easily by their 22-25 inches long tail with black and white alternating bands. The length of their ring-like tail is even longer than the head and the body! One can also identify them by their gray to rosy brown-colored back, head, and neck with white bellies.
Unlike black and white ruffed lemurs, Ring-tailed lemurs have a not-so-thick kind of fur. Do you know how a raccoon’s face looks? They have “Raccoon-like” face masks with dark triangular eye patches and the color of their eyes is somewhat like amber and brownish.
Usually, we think of male animals weighing higher than females, but this is not the case with Ring tailed lemurs. Male and Female lemurs both are of the same weight except for their difference in heights of the head, upper arms, and shoulders. These three body parts of male lemurs are slightly larger than the females.
You can also distinguish between the two genders by observing their feet and upper canines. In the case of male lemur Catta, they have more extended feet and upper canines than females.
3. Life of Ring tailed Lemurs
Ring tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) were named because of their attractive long, black and white-colored tail. Around 90% of their population live in the deciduous dry, thick, and spiny deserts of southern and southwestern Madagascar.
Due to their choice of habitat, unfortunately, they aren’t privileged to be picky eaters. They feed on plants that are found in southern and southwestern Madagascar.
Most of the time, Ring tailed lemurs live on herbs, plant parts like fruits, leaves, flowers but, during the dry season, when food gets scarce, they change their food habits to insects, caterpillars, spider-webs, chameleons, and even birds!
Since their food sources are sparse and non-continuous in dry forests, their troops travel far to survive. When they march on, it is the most beautiful thing to experience. Like flags, they keep raising their long black and white rings tails in the air so that the troop does not lose track and stick together.
If you ever go for their sighting, make sure you move in the morning. You would find them sunbathing in troops, scratching their belly out. Do remember to check out their females, as the dominant female presides over the entire troop of around 30 animals.
Sometimes, intolerant females also bite lower-ranked males, keeping them away from the group. Such outlier males are often hunted by predators for this very reason.
How do Ring tailed lemurs Communicate?
I always fancied the way animals talk with each other. Did you ever wonder how this endangered lemur species might communicate? It is very interesting!
Ring tailed lemurs speak with each other through around 28 different calls (is it even real?). They are the most vocal primates found in Madagascar. When they leave for longer days in troops, they do know how to keep their journey enjoyable by calling each other.
Most of the time, they use the powerful, unique odors of scent glands on wrists and chests to communicate. Like their voices, scent-marking also helps in signaling their troops. They would spur-mark on branches, trunks of trees so that other lemurs following could maintain the group’s hierarchy.
Suppose you are in the wilds, and some Ring tailed lemurs are constantly hopping and chirping with their mates. Won’t you be curious to know what they are saying? Let’s scroll down to get 5 quick facts on their behavioral languages and decode some of their facial expressions.
- Ring tailed lemurs usually stare with an open mouth when they want to communicate seeing a threat. Typically, eyes are opened wide with their teeth covered under the lips.
- If they encounter a friend or want to communicate in a friendly manner, they would show bared teeth with the corners of their mouth drawing back in a silent posture. The eyebrows are typically relaxed or up when they stare at the creature.
- They make the same ‘silent bared-teeth face’ when subordinate flee-approach conflicts occur and when an infant is troubled, but this time with a rapid noise attached to it.
- There is another facial expression in terms of contact calls and begging. Ring tailed lemurs would keep their mouth wide open like an ‘O’ shape and make a pout.
- When the lemurs communicate through long-distance calls, they would push their lips forward and make a face. It looks something like a ‘trumpet’ if you would ask me to compare.
It is not that this lemur species do not have any fear. Often, predators like birds of prey, snakes, cats, dogs, fossa, and even humans track them down!
To keep themselves safe from unwanted natural threats, Ring tailed lemurs often travel in a group. When traveling, if they encounter unexpected threats, they call each other through some alarm calls.
In the following, we will try to learn about 7 of such alarm calls. Who knows, when you are out there in the wild, you might end up identifying some of their interactions too!
1. Soft purr
This kind of sound is to call an infant ring tailed lemur.
This sort of sound is more like a ‘cat’s meow’ and is to call each other when the group gets widely dispersed.
This sound is for keeping in touch with their troop in general.
This sort of sound is to be in touch with preferred lemurs in the troop.
A ‘Lemur Catta’ may make this sound to mark his presence, dominance and discourage other males from mating.
This sound starts as a ‘grunt’ at first but becomes more like a ‘bark’ and is to signal an alarm.
7. Staccato Grunt
This sort of sound is to repulse another lemur.
How do Ring tailed Lemurs reproduce?
Let’s read something interesting about their mating game. Ring-tailed females are the born leaders of a lemur group, but did you know that males often fight among themselves to get her attention?
Ring tailed lemur females must get the one who outclasses the others. During the battle, male lemurs attack each other by slashing through their sharp canine teeth and sometimes through stink fights with each other.
Stink fighting? Yes, you have heard it right. They use their tails to rub the secretions from the wrist glands, wave over the heads, and flick at the opponent. Oh boy! That hostile look! In the end, one has to run away from the male lemurs’ battle, and the other one is declared champion.
Generally, the mating season for Ring tailed lemurs starts from mid-April in the wild. A female lemur is not sexually active until they reach 2.5 years of age. During their reproductive cycle, the females typically mate with multiple males and are sexually active for just one or two days in a year.
If you want to document their breeding season from the mating to the baby born, it is better to visit the wilds in mid-April and in August/September, when infant ring tailed lemurs cling to their mother’s bellies.
How long do Ring tailed Lemurs live for?
If we talk about their life span, this lemur species live for around 14 years in the wilds of southern Madagascar. But most of them are found in captivity, where they live more than 14 years and reproduce quickly too.
A Ring-tailed lemur’s longevity directly depends on its habitat and resources. They tend to live in drier, lower-weighted brush and scrub forests.
Sadly, increasing habitat loss makes them struggle with their food resulting in living a short life. In a world where these lemur species are on the verge of extinction, conservation efforts are still underway to increase their population.
It’s time to jump to some of the conservation efforts happening around the world to create well-deserved lifestyles for ring-tailed lemur.
In our next section, let’s praise the people/organizations who are investing valuable time from their lives on animal conservation. In this very case, on Ring tailed lemur conservation in southern Madagascar.
4. Conservation Practices on Ring-tailed Lemur
The world, where we all live, runs on the hope and efforts made by some of the greatest minds. Wildlife conservationists are one of such. Many individuals, organizations have been working hard to protect species that can’t speak for themselves. We must laud their commitment towards the forest and its rare treasures.
Madagascar, known for its unique biodiversities, needs more conservation strategies when it comes to protecting ring tailed lemur, a female-dominated lemur species. A recent update on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List has shown grave concern for the species.
Among a total of 107 lemur species, about 33 lemur species are already “critically endangered” and, 103 lemur species are marked as “threatened with extinction”. Ring tailed lemurs are one of those 103 surviving lemurs species.
To meet this urgent need, several NGOs, institutions, and individuals are working to make the public aware and running educational campaigns for the upcoming generation.
Let’s get to know some exceptional efforts to protect ring-tailed lemurs and other lemur species in Madagascar.
IUCN SOS (Save our Species) Lemurs
As a part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s lemur conservation agenda, “IUCN Save our Species (Lemur)” was officially started in 2017 as a 5-year plan and is still going on. Their work focuses on securing lemur populations in all the sites, providing alternative livelihood measures for the locals to coexist with the lemurs, assisting local NGOs through financial and knowledge sharing.
From its inception, “IUCN SOS Lemur” has been funding several frontline conservation organizations who are working tirelessly for this endangered mammalian species.
The Lemur Conservation Foundation
“The Lemur Conservation Foundation” in Florida is working for safeguarding the primate species, especially lemurs in Madagascar. This non-profit organization focuses on managed breeding, scientific research, and education as a part of its routine.
In Madagascar, they are working closely with their conservation partners and local communities in Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve (ASSR) and Marojejy National Park.
They have set up an eco-camp to promote Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve as a promising eco-tourism destination. Additionally, they are also reforesting the lemur habitat area, removing lemur bushmeat traps, creating awareness among local people to decrease their dependence on the rainforest by adopting alternative measures, and many more initiatives like these.
Intending to create a safe place for lemurs in Madagascar, “Conservation Fusion” has been working for lemur species through innovative educational strategies. Along with Ring tailed lemur, their conservation strategies also include other species like Northern sportive lemur, Greater bamboo lemur, Black-and-white ruffed lemur, and many more.
“Conservation Fusion” focuses on creating awareness among local villagers and school students, residing nearer to dry spiny forests of Lavavolo in southern Madagascar.
Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP)
“Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership” has been one of the leaders actively working in reforestation initiatives of lemur habitats. Partnering with “Conservation Fusion”, MBP has also extended its operational area to southern Madagascar.
With several community-based conservation and development programs, Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP) focuses on planting commercial trees for villagers as well as planting some favorite seeds of lemurs so that both sides could live in harmony without disrupting each other’s daily lives.
Reniala NGO and Lemur Rescue Center
“Reniala NGO” looks after a 6 km-squared protected area of dry spiny forest, Reniala and its lemur species, especially the ring tailed lemur. They have been monitoring lemur behavior, feeding, and health conditions through several research projects headed by researchers from different ends of the World.
In southwestern Madagascar, “Reniala NGO” has their lemur rescue center where around 25 individual ring tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) are in captivity. These lemurs were the parts of illegal pet and bushmeat trades.
The organization focuses on rehabilitation and releasing these lemurs back into the wild, but it won’t be easy as it seems. Given the amount of illegal pet and bushmeat trade in the region, Reniala NGO has a lot to do.
Lemur Love, Inc.
“Lemur Love” is another organization working for the betterment of lemur species, including ring tailed lemurs. But, the most remarkable thing about this organization is that they believe in women leading the way, just like the Ring tailed lemur group.
It connects with Malagasy women and utilizes unique insights and vast local knowledge to plan effective measures to put a full stop to the illegal pet and bushmeat trade.
In a country where women aren’t given many opportunities in the field of science and ground conservation leadership, “Lemur Love”s unique approach has been receiving praises from all corners. It provides much-needed livelihood alternatives to the villagers who live nearby and support any women-led small-scale development initiatives.
“Lemur Love” also runs the Lemur Science program that helps to know the roots of the capture and trade of all wild lemurs in Madagascar.
5. Did You Know?
There are many interesting facts about Ring tailed lemurs that make them an even more attractive subject to learn about.
Let’s dive into 10 quick unknown/lesser-known facts about this endangered species:
- Unlike other lemurs, Ring tailed lemurs love strolling in the land. They like to spend around 40% of their time on land.
- They love doing ‘Yoga’ with their bellies pointing towards the sun and stretching their hands and legs to the sides.
- A Ring tailed lemur can’t hang from his 2 feet-long-tail or can use it to swing through trees. It is a unique thing, unlike other monkey primate species.
- Someone tried counting the rings on their long tail and found 13 alternating black and white bands on it.
- Daughters of female leaders don’t always get their matriarchial inheritance. Sometimes, like the male ones, they too have to fight for that.
- A male Ring tailed lemur is most likely to leave his troop once it reaches sexual maturity at the age of three. But, other troops do not seem as welcoming as his own family.
- If a male lemur does not fight to reach the top male hierarchy, often they are smacked by the females and get bitten.
- This lemur species has a special teeth-like comb in its lower jaw. They use that dental comb to groom their or other lemur’s hairs.
- They have a communal approach when it comes to grooming their children. All-female Ring tailed lemurs in the troop come together and help in raising the babies.
- While searching for food, two lemur groups always get into fighting for marking their dominance over the territory.
Ring tailed lemurs are one of nature’s finest creations. Losing such beauty from our sight would heavily hamper Madagascar, one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots.
It has become our responsibility to support the initiatives of preserving threatened species like the Ring tailed lemur and other lemurs.
But, while doing so, keep this in mind. Many people would take lemurs as pets, which is not ethical and they shouldn’t do. Nature conservationists oppose the idea of having lemurs as pets. Don’t you want to know why? Read here what they want to say about this.
We are alive because of the forests and, forests are breathing because of wildlife. As we are marching on the path of development, we must constantly think of lowering every adverse impact on our environment to maintain ecological balance.
Let’s take a pledge to make our world a better place to live in, to fight for the voiceless, and preserve our future. Read ‘Who is a Green Influencer’ and learn how to change yourself to be one.
If you want to play your part and contribute to lemur’s conservation and preservation initiatives, click the official site of Lemur Conservation Network. You will find many NGOs and other organizations working on the ground to make the lives of lemur species a little bit easier.
It is now or never! Act now!