Greater Bamboo Lemur
(Prolemur simus)
The largest of the bamboo lemurs, this species can be identified by its distinctive white ear tufts. Discovered in 1870, it was believed to have become extinct by the early twentieth century. It was rediscovered in 1972. It is one of only a handful of mammals that specialise in eating bamboo. Completely dependent on this low-energy food source, the lemur must lead a very sedentary lifestyle and spend much of its time eating. As with many specialist species, this lemur is unable to adapt to its rapidly changing habitat. Widespread clearing of its rainforest habitat has caused populations to become isolated in the few remaining patches of forest capable of supporting this species.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Habitat protection and the establishment of a captive breeding programme in Madagascar. Extensive surveys to find location of further isolated populations that may be in need of protection.
Restricted to southeastern Madagascar.
Associated Blog Posts
6th Mar 12
Mainly eating bamboo, with the occasional fruit snack, might lead you to think this lemur is very small, but in fact it weighs in at around 2.5 kilograms...  Read

20th Feb 10
This week the list of the World’s 25 most endangered primates was released, highlighting which of man’s closest relatives are on the brink extinction and...  Read

18th Oct 09
The EDGE team recently heard some great news concerning EDGE mammal no 23 - the greater bamboo lemur. The largest of the bamboo lemurs, this species is also ...  Read

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). Recent molecular evidence indicates that H. simus is the most basal of these three species.
Head and body length: approx. 260-458 mm
Tail length: approx. 240-560 mm
Weight: approx. 1-2.5 kg
The greater bamboo lemur is the largest of the three species of bamboo lemur. It can be identified by its distinctive pale grey or white ear tufts. The body is rounded and covered with a dense coat of greyish-brown fur. The fur is typically a darker olive-brown colour on the head, shoulders and upper arms, while the underparts and throat are paler, generally creamy-brown. However, individuals of a recently discovered population of the species had deep golden-red coats and no ear tufts.
The species feeds almost exclusively on bamboo, particularly the giant bamboo (Cephalostachium madagascariensis). During the dry season it feeds mostly on the pith from mature bamboo stalks. It feeds in quite a destructive manner, using its powerful jaws to strip away the outer layers to reach the inner pith. When new bamboo appears at the beginning of the rainy season (November–December), the lemur switches to bamboo shoots. When the number of shoots declines at the end of the rainy season the lemurs supplement their diet with bamboo leaves. They can eat the cyanogenic parts of young leaves with no ill-effects and, unlike other bamboo lemurs, this species will also eat mature leaves. Bamboo is thought to make up around 98% of the species’ diet, with small quantities of fruit, soil and mushrooms also being consumed. Due to the dietary similarities between the three species of bamboo lemur, it is not unusual to find them inhabiting the same forests.

Little is known about the social structure of this lemur. Group size is thought to be around 4-7, although there have been reports of groups containing up to 12 individuals. The home range of the species in Ranomafana National Park is greater than 60 ha. The species is most active at dawn and dusk, and during the night.
Found in primary rainforest where there is an abundance of giant bamboo (Cephalostachium madagascariensis).

The species is now known only from the south-central portion of the eastern rainforest. It is found in the Ranomafana and Adringtra forests and is patchily distributed in the forested corridor in between these two national parks. It is also reported from the vicinity of Vondrozo. In 2009, the Aspinall Foundation Madagascar Programme extended the known northern range limit of the lemur by 85km through in-country surveys, and extended it a further 45 km in 2010 when, in partnership with GERP (Groupe d'Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates de Madagascar), Association Mitsinjo, Conservation International (CI) and Madagascar National Parks (MNP), the researchers found feeding signs in the Zahamena National Park. The southern range limit has also increased by approximately 100km, when old feeding signs were found during a survey in partnership with WWF-Madagascar. Through work with GERP, Mitsinjo and Durrell, the Aspinall Foundation also found three new sites approximately half way between the previously known northern and southern populations, which suggests that there is probably a continuous distribution throughout the eastern forests, rather than the two distinct northern and southern distributions as previously thought.

Population Estimate

The population is currently estimated at less than 250 individuals (IUCN 2008).

Population Trend
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR C1+2a(i)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The species occupies an extremely restricted range. It is threatened by the destruction of its rainforest habitat for slash-and-burn agriculture, and by the extensive cutting of bamboo. Hunting in some regions, habitat destruction, disturbance, and fragmentation as a combination of factors all lead to pressure on the wild populations. Demographic factors related to small population sizes and population isolation may also impact the breeding and expansion potential, and a lot of lemur groups living in lowland areas have been found to have high parasite burdens, which can negatively affect health and life expectancy.

Conservation Underway

The species is listed on Appendix I of CITES. It occurs within the Ranomafana and Andringitra National Parks, and the 120 km forest corridor between them. However, it is threatened with habitat degradation even within protected areas. WWF is currently funding a project that will enable local people to manage the forest corridor so that natural resources are used sustainably. Several individuals have been taken into captivity in Europe, but there has been no co-ordinated captive breeding programme to date. The Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) cites the greater bamboo lemur as one of the species they are supporting.


The Aspinall Foundation Madagascar Programme was created in 2009 with a mission to work with local partners for the conservation of threatened species and their habitats. The main focus of the programme was to ensure that effective actions were being implemented to ensure the long-term survival of the greater bamboo lemur. It has made significant progress in the surveying of new sites, in particular the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor in the central region of the south-eastern rainforest, and therefore this area can now be considered a priority conservation focus for this species (in addition to the Fandriana-Vandrozo Corridor). The research group were able to double the numbers of known localities for the species in the wild and pushed the borders of the territory approximately 85km north and 100km south.


There are now nine trained teams of a total of 24 local community members to monitor the Prolemur groups, collect basic information on other endangered lemurs such as black-and-white ruffed lemur, diademed sifaka and indri, identify the anthropogenic pressures threatening the sites, and undertake immediate
conservation measures such as the destruction of illegal lemur traps. The information collected by these teams is passed on to the community associations and local forestry officials to facilitate improved conservation management.

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 that further research into the ecology and behaviour of this little-known species is carried out as a matter of urgency, and that a captive breeding programme be established in Madagascar to safeguard against possible extinction in the wild. It also stated that increased protection for Ranomafana National Park is needed to stop further habitat destruction occurring along its borders. There is always a need for continuous surveying to see whether the species range is expanding, contracting or being maintained at a sustainable level. 


More recently, it is stated that action needs to be taken for lemur groups and individuals that exist in areas which cannot be protected, under a strict legal framework that involves capture and relocation to suitable sites, such as Parc Ivoloina near Tamatave and Antananarivo Zoo (King et al, 2010). Ideally there should be well-managed and secure isolated areas nearer the species ranges into which the captured animals could be released, but currently there are no plans in place to develop these. 


In addition to improving conservation management of the sites, the degree of isolation of these populations and their associated levels of inbreeding needs to be measured, with the aim of ensuring their persistence in the wild. There are discussions currently taking place between the Aspinall Foundation and various research organisations to decide on the best plan of action in this area.


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. 



The Aspinall Foundation Madagascar Programme
This branch of the Aspinall Foundation is focused on working with local NGOs in Madagascar for the protection of endangered species and their habitats, with the aim of forming beneficial collaborations between different parties in Antananarivo, as well as developing a workshop to determine a long-term management plan for the greater bamboo lemur. The programme is also progressing further projects for other endangered lemurs such as the crowned Sifaka.

Zoo population

Only 39 greater bamboo lemurs have been kept in captivity. As of 2007, there were 22 in seven institutions, including Cologne Zoo in Germany, Edinburgh Zoo in the UK, Paris Zoo in France and Omega Parque in Portugal. There were also some in two institutions in Madagascar. All the individuals outside Madagascar are descended from only two wild-born founders.


Andriambololona, J., Dolch, R., Fanomezantsoa, P., King, T., Nasoavina, C., Ndriamiary, J.N., Rafalimandimby, J., Rajaonson, A., Rakotonirina, L., Rakotoarisoa, J.C., Rasolofoharivelo, T., Ratolojanahary, T., Ratsimbazafy, J., Ravaloharimanitra, M., & Youssouf, 2011. Gathering Local Knowledge in Madagascar results in a Major Increase in the Known Range and Number of Sites for Critically Endangered Greater Bamboo Lemurs (Prolemur Simus). International Journal of Primatology 32(3): 776-792. 


Andrainarivo, C., Andriaholinirina, V.N., Feistner, A., Felix, T., Ganzhorn, J., Garbutt, N., Golden, C., Konstant, B., Louis Jr., E., Meyers, D., Mittermeier, R.A., Perieras, A., Princee, F., Rabarivola, J.C., Rakotosamimanana, B., Rasamimanana, H., Ratsimbazafy, J., Raveloarinoro, G., Razafimanantsoa, A., Rumpler, Y., Schwitzer, C., Thalmann, U., Wilmé, L. & Wright, P. 2008. Prolemur simus. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 21 February 2012.

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.

King, T. & Chamberlan, C. 2010. Conserving the Critically Endangered greater bamboo lemur. Oryx 44 (2): 167.


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. et al. 1994. Lemurs of Madagascar. Conservation International, Washington, DC.

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

Tan, Chia 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

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