Diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema)

French: Propithèque À Diadème
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderPrimates
FamilyIndriidae
GenusPropithecus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 50 - 55 cm (2)
Tail length: 44 - 50 cm (2)
Weight4.75 – 8.5 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

Widely regarded as the most beautiful of all the primates of Madagascar (2), the diademed sifaka is indeed striking. Its bare, dark grey or black face is framed with contrasting white hair, and on top of the head is a patch of black (2); the resemblance of this to a ‘diadem’, the ornamental headband or crown worn by royalty, is the source of this species English name (4). Its long, silky fur is typically grey on the back, and rich orange or golden on the arms and legs. The hands and feet are black, and there is often a golden-yellow area around the base of the grey or white tail (2). However, the colouration of this species does vary across its range, with some individuals in the extreme southern parts of this range having almost black fur on the back, and white patches on the face (2). Like other sifakas, the diademed sifaka has short arms, rather limited in their movement, and large, strong hindlimbs (5), which propel the sifaka as it leaps between trees (2). As well as its unmistakable appearance, the diademed sifaka is also known for its size; after the indri (Indri indri), the diademed sifaka is the second largest extant lemur (2).

The diademed sifaka inhabits eastern Madagascar, where it occurs from the Mananara Nord River, south to the Mangoro and Onive Rivers (1). It is found between 200 and 1,625 metres above sea level (1).

This primate inhabits primary lowland and montane rainforests (1) (2).

The diademed sifaka is active during the daytime, when it moves around in groups of eight or more individuals (1), which consist of a number of both adult males and adult females. It was once thought that females remain within the group they were born, whilst males move into neighbouring groups; however, more recent studies show that females may also move between groups (2). Together they defend a home range of 25 to 60 hectares by scent marking (2). The group can travel several hundred metres each day, moving between high in the forest canopy and low in the understorey (2), in their search for leaves, buds, flowers, seeds and fruits on which they feed (6). Occasionally, the diademed sifaka may also descend to the forest floor to search for fallen fruits (2), or to sniff out certain strong smelling plants that parasitize the roots of trees or vines (7).

Mating takes place between January and March, and the diademed sifaka gives birth to a single offspring, after a gestation of 170 to 180 days. The infant initially clings tightly to its mother’s belly, but as it grows, it will instead ride on its mother’s back as she moves through the trees (2). A young sifaka is vulnerable to predation, such as by the carnivorous fosa (Cryptoprocta ferox) (2). To help avoid such dangers, the sifaka will call to warn the others in its group; the presence of a predator on the ground is signalled by a sneeze-like zzuss call, while a honk-honk-honk means a large raptor may be circling overhead (2)

Like many Malagasy primates, the diademed sifaka is primarily threatened by the destruction of its rainforest habitat. Primary forests are being cleared to make way for agriculture, the extraction of timber, and charcoal production (1) (2). Worryingly, it appears that this species may be sensitive to even slight disturbances, as it has vanished from areas which have suffered only a little degradation (2). This species is also hunted for food, an activity which is having a serious detrimental impact even on populations that lie within supposedly protected areas (1).

The diademed sifaka occurs in a number of national parks and reserves, for example Mantadia and Zahamena National Parks, but unfortunately, this does not always offer the species protection from the threat of hunting (1). A conservation action plan for lemurs compiled in 1992 stated that better protection of such areas is a necessary conservation action for this species (8). The plan also suggested that a captive breeding programme should be developed (8); for many years there has only been one male diademed sifaka held in captivity, in Duke Lemur Centre in North Carolina, USA (9).

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Authenticated (07/10/09) by Nick Garbutt, zoologist and author.

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2002)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Garbutt, N. (2007) Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide. A&C Black, London.
  3. CITES (October, 2002)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group (September, 2009)
    http://www.primate-sg.org/CR/P.d.diadema.htm
  5. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  6. Irwin, M.T. (2008) Feeding ecology of Propithecus diadema in forest fragments and continuous forest. International Journal of Primatology, 29: 95 - 115.
  7. Irwin, M.T., Raharison, F.J., Rakotoarimanana, H., Razanadrakoto, E., Ranaivoson, E., Rakotofanala, J. and Randrianarimanana, C. (2007) Diademed sifakas (Propithecus diadema) use olfaction to forage for the inflorescence of subterranean parasitic plants (Balanophoraceae: Langsdorffia sp., and cytinaceae: Cytinus sp.). American Journal of Primatology, 69: 471 - 476.
  8. Mittermeier, R.A., Konstant, W.R., Nicoll, M.E. and Landgrand, O. (1992) Lemurs of Madagascar: An Action Plan for their Conservation 1993-1999. IUCN, Gland.
  9. Duke Lemur Centre (September, 2009)
    http://lemur.duke.edu