Bemaraha woolly lemur (Avahi cleesei)

Also known as: Cleese’s woolly lemur, John Cleese’s avahi, John Cleese’s woolly lemur
GenusAvahi (1)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (2).

Named in affectionate honour of the renowned British comedian John Cleese, the Bemaraha woolly lemur is a little known Madagascan primate first described in 2005 (3). In common with other woolly lemurs, this species has thick, tightly-curled, brown-grey fur, and a long tail that is often rolled up against the back (4). Pale fur on the small, rounded head extends from the forehead, down towards the nose, forming a distinctive triangular shape. The Bemaraha woolly lemur is distinguished from related species by the thick, black rings that surround the maroon coloured eyes, while the snout is black and the fur around the chest and belly is a lighter grey (3). When traversing the canopy, the woolly lemurs move with a distinctive gait, perching with a near vertical posture and using powerful rear limbs to leap spectacular distances between branches (5).

The Bemaraha woolly lemur is known from just the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in central-western Madagascar. Its exact distribution is unclear, but the southern parts of its range appear to be confined by the Manambolo River (6). 

The Bemaraha woolly lemur is only known to inhabit subhumid dry deciduous forests, bordering seasonal rivers and swamps, and prefers areas with a high proportion of evergreen trees (6) (7).

An arboreal, nocturnal primate, the Bemaraha woolly lemur spends the day sleeping in hollow trees or thick vegetation. Shortly after dusk, small family groups emerge to groom and feed upon leaves, buds, bark and fruits, all the while maintaining contact with distinctive whistles. This species spends most of the time high in the canopy, but will occasionally descend to the ground, jumping between stands of trees with an upright posture (5). 

Unique amongst Madagascan primates, the woolly lemurs are monogamous. A single young may be born each dry season, between August and November, after a gestation period of four to five months (5) (8). Juveniles may stay with the parents for several years, helping to defend small territories of around two hectares (6). The woolly lemurs are also extremely vocal, and groups of these animals advertise themselves to other groups using a characteristic ‘ava-hee’ call, a behaviour leading to the scientific name Avahi (4).

Known from just a single national park, the Bemaraha woolly lemur is extremely vulnerable to habitat loss. The conversion of forest to agricultural land, using slash-and-burn techniques, is commonplace around the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, and in some places the forest has been reduced to just a few metres width. The southern border of the national park is also under pressure from annual bushfires, which limit the forest’s regenerative potential. As this lemur is confined to this area, there is increasing concern about the status of this little known species (6). A population around the village of Ankinajao is already believed to have become extinct due to excessive logging, and its total range is now probably no more than 5,000 square kilometres (1) (6).

The improvement of legal enforcement within the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park should give this species a degree of sanctuary from some threats, such as hunting, and will potentially secure the species’ habitat. As there is still a dearth of data regarding the ecology and distribution of this little known, yet curious species, further efforts are required to prevent additional declines (1). 

To find out more about primate conservation, see:

To find out more about conservation in Madagascar, see:

Authenticated (03/06/10) by Matthew Richardson, primatologist and author.

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
  2. CITES (March, 2010)
  3. Thalmann, U. and Geissmann, T. (2005) New species of woolly lemur Avahi (primates: Lemuriformes) in Bemaraha (central western Madagascar). American Journal of Primatology, 67: 371–376.
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Mammals of the World. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  6. Thalmann, U. and Geissmann, T. (2006) Conservation assessment of the recently discovered John Cleese’s woolly lemur, Avahi cleesei (Lemuriformes, Indridae). Primate Conservation, 21: 45-49.
  7. Richardson, M. (2010) Pers. comm.
  8. Harcourt, C. (2009) Diet and behaviour of a nocturnal lemur, Avahi laniger, in the wild. Journal of Zoology, 4: 667-674.