Golden-crowned Sifaka
(Propithecus tattersalli)
First scientifically described in 1988, the golden-crowned sifaka is considered to be one of the rarest of Madagascar’s lemurs. Its common name derives from the sound it makes when calling (“shee-fak”). This species has one of the smallest ranges and documented population sizes of any lemur. It is confined to a number of isolated forest fragments which are under pressure from slash-and-burn agriculture and logging. The discovery and subsequent mining of gold in the region has led to further habitat loss, and an influx of miners who hunt the animals for food. No part of this species’ range is protected.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Habitat protection is the most urgent conservation measure needed.
Northeast Madagascar.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Primates
Family: Indridae
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 Indriidae comprises six species in three genera; Indri, Avahi (woolly lemurs) and Propithecus (sifakas). Three species of sifaka are recognised: P. diadema, P. verreauxi and P. tattersalli.
Head and body length: 450-550 mm
Tail length: 432-560 mm
Weight: 3-7 kg
The smallest of the three species of sifaka, the golden-crowned sifaka is characterised by a coat of short, creamy white fur, prominent tufted ears and a bright golden-orange crown. The shoulders, upper arms, chest and rump may also be tinged with orange. The hairless black face is drawn into a pronounced muzzle, which is framed by white fur. The eyes are a bright orange colour. Like other sifakas, this species has long powerful legs, which enable it to cling to and leap between vertical trunks and branches.
The species is predominantly arboreal and diurnal, although it is sometimes active before dawn and after dusk during the rainy season (December–March). It eats a variety of unripe fruit, seeds, shoots and leaves. Bark is occasionally eaten during the dry season, when food is scarce.

Sifakas are social animals, living in groups ranging from 3-10 individuals. Groups typically contain around 5 or 6 animals, consisting of adult males and females and their offspring. While groups often contain more than one adult female, only one female seems to breed successfully. Mating occurs at the end of January, and females give birth to a single offspring in late June. The young are weaned at 5-6 months, which coincides with an increased abundance of high-quality immature leaves. Sexual maturity is reached at around 2-3 years. During the mating season males migrate from group to group. Females are thought to remain in the same group their entire lives. Females are dominant within the group, and maintain social bonds through grooming. Groups defend territories that range from 6-12 hectares, and within these the groups range between 400 and 1,200 m daily. Both males and females mark these territories with scent from their scent glands.
Inhabits dry deciduous and semi-evergreen forest fragments. Not known to occur at altitudes above 700 m.
The species has an extremely limited distribution. It is confined to a number of discontinuous forest fragments between the Manambato and Loky Rivers in northeast Madagascar. The town of Daraina lies at the centre of this range. The entire range is just over 88,000 hectares, about half of which is forest.
Population Estimate
The total population size is estimated to be between 6,120 and 10,080.
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR A2c, B1+2bcd) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
This species has one of the smallest ranges and documented population sizes of any lemur. The forests throughout its range are already severely fragmented, causing some groups to become physically and genetically isolated from the main population. No part of the species’ range is protected. The isolated patches of forest which remain are under pressure from slash-and-burn agriculture (tavy) and logging. The discovery and subsequent mining of gold in the region has led to further habitat loss, and an influx of miners who hunt the animals for food.
Conservation Underway
The species is listed under Appendix I of CITES and Class A of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which states that hunting, killing, capture or collection of individuals is forbidden unless for scientific purposes and with permission. However, these laws are difficult to enforce. The current captive population of golden-crowned sifakas consists of just three males at the Duke University Primate Center.

A Malagasy non-government organisation (NGO) is currently working with local authorities and communities to develop sustainable natural resource management and conservation strategies to protect the species. The Daraina region, in which the species occurs, is considered a national priority for the establishment of a new protected area. However, the fragmented distribution of forests in the region prevents the straightforward approach of selecting a large forest tract for the establishment of a core reserve. Efforts are currently underway to create a 20,000-30,000 ha national park in the region, which will consist of a network of protected forest fragments and neighbouring grassland.
Conservation Proposed
It has been suggested that protected area planning must encompass the concept of “conservation gradients”, allowing for different levels of protection depending upon the forests' potential role in biodiversity conservation. For instance, some forest fragments should be included within a national park or reserve while others should allow some degree of human activity (although the sifaka is sensitive to forest fragmentation and degradation, it is believed to be fairly resilient to human presence). Forests that have low potential for conservation could be used for extraction purposes. The success of this scheme will depend on the co-operation and support of local communities, so education and training programmes will prove crucial.
Associated EDGE Community members

Mitchell is actively involved in lemur conservation in Madagascar

This organisation seeks to maintain biodiversity in unprotected high biodiversity areas by promoting a long-term conservation process that integrates development, research, training, and education-outreach activities.

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.
ARKive. (Dec 2005).

Duke Primate Center

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

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

Goodman, S. M. and Benstead, J. P. (eds.). 2003. The Natural History of Madagascar. The University of Chicago Press.

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

Vargas, A., Jiménez, I., Palomares, F. and Jesús Palacios, M. 2002. Distribution, status and conservation needs of the golden-crowned sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli). Biological Conservation 108: 325-334.

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

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