Alaotran gentle lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis)

Also known as: Alaotra reed lemur, Alaotran bamboo lemur, Bandro, Lac Alaotra bamboo lemur, Lake Alaotra gentle lemur
Synonyms: Hapalemur griseus alaotrensis
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderPrimates
FamilyLemuridae
GenusHapalemur (1)
SizeHead-and-body length: 38 - 40 cm (2)
Tail length: 39 - 41 cm (3)
Male weight: 1.4 kg (3)
Female weight: 1.6 kg (3)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).

The Alaotran gentle lemur has a woolly, dense, dark-grey coat, with a chestnut tinge on the crown (3). The head is rounded, the muzzle blunt and the ears are short (5). The grasping hands and feet and long tail used for balance, allow this lemur to walk along the reed stalks of its lakeside habitat (3).

Endemic to Madagascar and found only in and around the largest lake of the island (6); Lac Alaotra, situated in central-eastern Madagascar (1). Today the Alaotran gentle lemur inhabits one of the most restricted ranges of any lemur species, and is found mainly in the southwest corner of the lake, although a tiny, isolated population also persists on the northern shore (3).

This is the only primate adapted to live in reed and papyrus beds (3).

These lemurs live in social groups that are usually between 2 and 9 individuals strong (average 3 to 5) (2) (3). Group territories are defended by vocalisations, displays and scent-markings. Bonds between group members are maintained by social grooming; individuals sit facing each other and use their teeth and hands to groom (3). Females give birth to a single offspring, which is initially carried on its mother’s back (3).

Alaotran gentle lemurs are active during the day and night with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk. Unlike other lemurs, members of this species walk on all fours along the reed stalks of their habitat, bending one stalk until it allows them to reach the next. However, they can also use the clinging-and-leaping locomotion more typical of this group of primates (3). These lemurs specialise on eating papyrus leaves (Cyperus madagascariensis) (3) and those of reeds such as Phragmites spp. (1); individuals will also spend some time on the ground foraging for food (3).

The Alaotran gentle lemur is extremely threatened due to its highly restricted range and specialised habitat. The area around Lac Alaotra is the largest area in Madagascar developed for rice cultivation and vast areas of the reed bed habitat have been burned and drained (1) to make way for paddy fields (6). In addition, reeds are themselves harvested for products such as mats, fish traps, screens and fencing (6). The species is also under pressure from hunting both for food and for the pet trade (6); deliberate fires are sometimes lit to force fleeing lemurs into the path of hunters (3).

Lac Alaotra was declared a Ramsar site in 2003, with the aim of conserving biodiversity and the wetland ecosystem, and there are also plans to create a strict conservation area covering the site. Public awareness campaigns have focused on the benefits of habitat conservation to the people living around the lake, and a regional fishing convention bans lemur hunting and marsh burning (1). The Alaotran gentle lemur is protected from international trade by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (4). There are currently small captive breeding programmes in several institutions, including at the Durrell Conservation Trust in Jersey (1) (2) (7). The highly restricted nature of this species’ distribution however, means that it is vital that some of its habitat is protected to prevent yet another member of Madagascar's unique fauna from being lost.

Authenticated (2/11/02) by Nick Garbutt, and (25/04/2006) by Matthew Richardson, independent primatologist and writer.

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Richardson, M. (2006) Pers. comm.
  3. Garbutt, N. (1999) Mammals of Madagascar. Pica Press, Sussex.
  4. CITES (July, 2002)
    http://www.cites.org
  5. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  6. Duke University (July, 2002)
    http://lemur.duke.edu/conservation/
  7. Durrell Conservation Trust (July, 2002)
    http://www.durrell.org/