Golden Bamboo Lemur
(Hapalemur aureus)
The golden bamboo lemur is so-called because of the golden fur around its face, inner limbs and belly. It was first described by Western science less than 20 years ago, in 1987. Bamboo lemurs are the only primates in the world that specialise on a bamboo diet. This species has evidently evolved resistance to the high levels of cyanide within the young bamboo leaves that it eats. Every day it consumes the equivalent of 12 times the lethal dose of cyanide for most mammals! The species is threatened primarily by the continued loss of its forest habitat due to slash-and-burn agriculture and timber extraction.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Further research into status and distribution, and possible captive breeding programme.
Restricted to southeastern Madagascar.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Primates
Family: Lemuridae
Lemurs belong to the suborder Strepsirhini, which also includes bushbabies, pottos and lorises. These groups are the most basal living primates. Ancestral prosimians, possibly resembling today’s mouse lemurs, are thought to have colonised Madagascar from mainland Africa 50-60 million years ago. In the absence of competition from other non-primate mammals, these species diversified to fill a wide range of unusual ecological niches. There are five distinct families of lemurs: Lemuridae, Indriidae, Megaladapidae, Cheirogaleidae and Daubentoniidae. The Lemuridae comprises 10 species, divided into two subfamilies: the Lemurinae (‘true’ lemurs) and the Hapalemurinae (bamboo or gentle lemurs). There are three species of bamboo lemur: Hapalemur griseus (grey bamboo lemur), Hapalemur simus (greater bamboo lemur), and Hapalemur aureus (golden bamboo lemur).
Head and body length: approx. 260-458 mm
Tail length: approx. 240-560 mm
Weight: approx. 1-2.5 kg
The golden bamboo lemur is about the size of a domestic cat, and has distinctive golden fur framing its black face. The belly and inner limbs are also golden, while the fur on the animal’s back is a pale orange colour with greyish-brown guard hairs. The ears are covered in golden-brown hair which does not extend much beyond the tips.
The species is mainly arboreal. It feeds almost exclusively on new shoots, leaf bases and the creepers of the endemic giant bamboo, Cephalostachium madagascariensis. A small amount of time is spent eating other bamboo and grass species. The species prefers the soft stalks and growing tips that are ignored by the other bamboo lemurs with which it shares its habitat. These parts are very high in protein, but also contain high levels of cyanide toxins. The species has evidently evolved a digestive system to cope with this. Every day it eats around 500 g of bamboo, which represents 12 times the lethal dose of cyanide for most mammals.

Golden bamboo lemurs are most active at dawn and dusk, and possibly also during the night. They are social animals, living in small family groups of around 2-6 individuals. These groups typically consist of an adult male and female, with slightly smaller subadults or juveniles. Groups have been observed to occupy territories of up to 80 ha, but on average travel less than 400 m per day. Females give birth each year to one, or occasionally two, young at the beginning of the rainy season (November-December).
Restricted to primary rainforests that contain giant bamboo (Cephalostachium madagascariensis).
Endemic to Madagascar. The species is known to occur in small patches of rainforest in southeastern Madagascar, including Ranomafana National Park and Andringitra Nature Reserve.
Population Estimate
Population size is estimated to be about 1,000 individuals.
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR A2cd) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The species is threatened by the continued loss of its forest habitat due to slash-and-burn agriculture and timber extraction. Even the protected forests within Ranomafana National Park are at risk from illegal logging and exploitation. The species may also be at risk from hunting for food and the pet trade.
Conservation Underway
The discovery of the species in 1985 brought Ranomafana to the world’s attention and prompted the creation of the park in 1991. The lemur receives a degree of protection both here and in Andringitra National Park. Malagasy law states that it is illegal to hunt, kill or capture bamboo lemurs, and the species is listed on Appendix I of CITES. However, it is difficult to enforce this protection, and slash-and-burn agriculture is encroaching on the park boundaries. There is a small captive population of the species at Parc Tsimbazaza in Madagascar, but no co-ordinated breeding programme to date.
Conservation Proposed
The species was given the Highest Priority rating in the 1992 IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group’s Lemur Action Plan. The plan recommended further research and a potential captive breeding programme to protect against possible extinction in the wild. The species is known to occur in the 140 km forested corridor between Ranomafana and Andringitra National Park. However, it is not known whether its distribution is continuous here, or, more likely, whether it occurs in isolated patches of suitable habitat. Further surveys of the area are needed to investigate this.
Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG)
MFG is an international collaboration of zoos and related organizations that work together to conserve one of the worlds most endangered regions in the world. MGF works closely with AZA and aims to sustain the high levels of unique biodiversity and protect the many endemic species of Madagascar. MFG offer many areas of support including protection of parks and nature reserves, field research, breeding programmes, conservation planning, education and technical support.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) – Golden Bamboo Lemur
This initiative aims to protect critical habitat for the survival of this species. It also supports conservation breeding of golden bamboo lemurs.

Ganzhorn, J. & Members of the Primate Specialist Group. 2000. Hapalemur aureus. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 09 August 2006.

Jean-Luc Fausser, J-L., Prosper, P., Donati, G., Ramanamanjato, J-B. and Rumpler, Y. 2002. Phylogenetic relationships between Hapalemur species and subspecies based on mitochondrial DNA sequences. BMC Evolutionary Biology 2(4): Unpaginated.

Garbutt, N. 1999. Mammals of Madagascar. Pica Press. East Sussex.

Langrand, O., Nicoll, M.E., Konstant, R. and Mittermeier, W. 1992. Lemurs of Madagascar: An Action Plan for their Conservation. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Mittermeier, R.A., Tattersall, I., Konstant, W.R. and Nash, S.D. (Illustrator). 1994. Lemurs of Madagascar. Conservation International. Tropical Field Guide Series. Washington, DC.

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Tan, C. L. 1999. Group composition, home range size, and diet of three sympatric bamboo lemur species (genus Hapalemur) in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology 20(4): 547-566

WWF Communal Natural Resource Management in the Forest Corridor between Adringitra and Ranomafana National Parks

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

Forum comments
  1. Anonymous

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    Posted 8 years ago #
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    Posted 8 years ago #
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