Sahafary Sportive Lemur
(Lepilemur septentrionalis)
Lepilemur septentrionalis is arboreal and nocturnal. This species is one of the smallest of the Lepilemurs and they have enlarged, fleshy pads on their hands and feet that improve their grasp on tree branches, making them agile in the trees. Together with other sportive lemurs, they are believed to be ‘caecotrophic’, meaning they eat their faeces, digesting their food for a second time. Its recent reclassification as a distinct lineage has resulted in the recognition of the species as Critically Endangered due to a perilously low population size. The species is still hunted despite it being illegal and the remaining population suffers from continued habitat loss and fragmentation.
Urgent Conservation Actions
None of the remaining populations occur in protected areas and so the designation of conservation areas should be a priority. Further surveys are needed to identify any additional populations.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Primates
Family: Lepilemuridae
Comprising 23 species, lepilemur (sportive lemurs) are the most diverse lemur genus. Owing to recent phylogenetic studies, the four subspecies of L. septentrionalis populations were recognised as two distinct evolutionary lineages. Divergence was so significant that today these subpopulations are separated into two different species; L. septentrionalis and L. Andrafiamenensis.
Head and body length: 28 cm
Weight: 7.5 kg
This small lepilemur has a pale grey-brown back with a darker line that runs from the head down to the tail. There is some brown around the top of the head and around their shoulders, and their undersides are grey.
They are arboreal and nocturnal and move from tree to tree by leaping. They adopt a vertical posture, clinging to the tree with pads on their hands and feet. They then leap in this upright position. During the day the Northern sportive lemur sleeps in tree holes or bundles of dense foliage.

Relatively little is known about the behaviour of these animals. Together with other sportive lemurs, they are believed to be ‘caecotrophic’, meaning they eat their faeces, digesting their food for a second time. The reason for this behaviour is thought to be due to the low energy value of their food – chiefly leaves – which has to be fermented within their gut in order to allow bacteria to break down the cellulose and release the sugars and starches within the leaves.
Dry deciduous forest.
This species occurs in Madagascar’s far northern regions, north of the Irodo River, where it is now believed restricted to the small remaining patches of forest near the villages of Madirobe and Ankarongana in the Sahafary region, and in the immediate vicinity of Andrahona, a small mountain emerging out of the surrounding lowlands about 30 km south of Antsiranana. This species has only been recorded at elevations below 300 m.
Population Estimate
Unknown, but the total population probably only numbers a few hundred individuals, and is fragmented to such an extent that no subpopulation is likely to number much more than 50 mature individuals.
Population Trend
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR C2a(i)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Like much of the native fauna of Madagascar, northern sportive lemurs are at risk from habitat loss, particularly for charcoal production. The animals are also hunted for food in spite of being officially protected. These threats have made this one of the most threatened species in its genus.
Conservation Underway
Listed on Appendix I of CITES.
Conservation Proposed
This species exists only as small populations in the Sahafary region and is not in any protected areas. The Andrahona Forest, a small mountain rising out of the lowlands, is apparently a sacred forest, but it is tiny and showing signs of incursions. Additional survey work further north may reveal the presence of the species in other remaining forest patches.
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. Lepilemur septentrionalis. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 15 November 2010.

Garbutt, N. 2007. Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide. A & C Black Publishers Ltd.

Mittermeier, R. A. et al. 2008. Lemur Diversity in Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology 29(6): 1607-1656.

Ravaoarimanana, I.B. et al. 2004. Molecular and cytogenetic evidence for cryptic speciation within a rare endemic Malagasy lemur, the Northern Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 31:  440–448.

Rumpler, Y. et al. 2001. Cytogenetic Arguments in Favour of a Taxonomic Revision of Lepilemur septentrionalis. Folia Primatol 72: 308–315.

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