Described by Gerald Durrell as a ‘honey-coloured teddy bear’, the Lake Alaotra gentle lemur is the only species of primate to occur exclusively in marsh habitat.
Significantly larger than the other species of bamboo lemur, this species uses its grasping hands and feet and long tail to balance when walking along reed stalks in its lakeside habitat. It can also leap from support to support in a vertical posture, landing feet-first, and may possibly be able to swim. The Lake Alaotra Gentle Lemur genus, Hapalemurgenus contains 5 species which are collectively known as gentle or bamboo lemurs. Lemurs diverged from major primate lineages 50-60 million years ago, occurring in isolation for 40 million years on the island of Madagascar, with 21 extant species in the Lemuridae family. Widespread hunting for pelts and cheap meat combined with large scale burning of the reed beds on which it depends, and capture for the illegal pet trade, has caused a decline of over 50% in a decade. Today only two subpopulations remain
- Order: Primates
- Family: Lemuridae
- Population: 2,500
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 28cm
- Weight: 1-1.4kg
This species is known only from the papyrus and reed beds surrounding Lac Alaotra, Madagascar’s largest lake located in the eastern rainforest region. The species occurs as two subpopulations, a small one in the northern part of the lake around the Belempona Peninsula and a larger one in the adjoining marshlands along the lake’s south-western shores bounded by the villages of Anororo, Andreba and Andilana-Sud. Its entire range appears to be rather less than 200 km² and it occurs only up to elevations of 750 m.
Habitat and Ecology
The Alaotran gentle lemur eats a variety of marsh vegetation, with papyrus reeds making up a large proportion of their diet. They live either in monogamous family groups, with one adult breeding pair, or in small groups with two breeding females. The most common group composition was found to be an adult pair and one offspring. As with all lemurs, but unlike other primates, female gentle lemurs are dominant. Breeding is annual and pregnancy lasts for about 5 months. Young are born with open eyes and covered in fur from September through February and twins are common.