Milne-Edwards' sifaka (Propithecus edwardsi)

Synonyms: Propithecus diadema edwardsi, Propithecus holomelas
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderPrimates
FamilyIndriidae
GenusPropithecus (1)
SizeTotal length: 83 – 99.5 cm (2)
Head-body length: 42 – 52 cm (2)
Tail length: 41 – 47.5 (2)
Weight5 – 6.5 kg (2)

Milne-Edwards’ sifaka is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

With piercing orange-red eyes peering out from a dark grey face, Milne-Edwards’ sifaka is a striking sight in Madagascar’s forests. Its soft and dense fur is typically chocolate brown to almost black on the head, upper body and limbs, turning reddish-brown towards the creamy white saddle on the lower back. A thin dark line cuts through this light saddle to the dark tail (2). The chest and belly are also dark, but are more sparsely furred, while the face is naked of any fur (2). Young Milne-Edwards’ sifakas are similar in appearance to the adults (4).

Endemic to Madagascar, Milne-Edwards’ sifaka is found only in a narrow band of rainforest in the south-east of the island (2), situated between the Mangoro and Onive Rivers and the Manampatrana River and Andringitra National Park (1). 

Milne-Edwards’ sifaka inhabits primary rainforest and slight degraded rainforest (2), typically between 600 and 1,600 metres above sea level (1).

The tree-dwelling Milne-Edwards’ sifaka lives in groups of 3 to 9 individuals, with each group containing mature members of each sex. These groups, in which females are the dominant sex, occupy large home ranges covering 45 to 55 hectares (2). Both male and female sifakas regularly mark their territory with scent, a behaviour that also communicates information about the scent-marker to other members of the group (2).

Milne-Edwards’ sifaka infants are generally born in June and July, after a gestation period of 180 days, resulting in lactation coinciding with the peak fruiting season. The infant, which weighs just 150 grams at birth, spends the first month of life clinging to its mother’s belly, after which it will ride on her back when moving through the forest (2). Females breed every other year, although the loss of an infant causes the female to breed again the following year. Unfortunately this is a frequent occurrence; 40 percent of infants die within their first year and 65 percent do not survive to sexual maturity. These high mortality rates are due to predation by the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), large raptors, and occasional infanticide by males and females entering a new group (2).

If they survive infancy, females reach sexual maturity at four years of age, and males at five years. Females may either remain in the group into which they were born or move to a nearby group, while males move out of their birth group to join another group between five and ten years of age (2). Milne-Edwards’ sifaka lives for up to 35 years (5).

The diet of Milne-Edwards’ sifaka contains a variety of seeds and new leaves, from which it obtains most of the necessary fat and protein (5), as well as fruits and flowers (2). Milne-Edwards’ sifaka moves through the forest canopy to forage for this varied diet (up to 25 species are consumed in just one day), and occasionally, it will descend to the ground to feed on soil. This rather bizarre food item is thought to provide the sifaka with important nutrients, or help neutralise poisons that accumulate from its regular diet (2). The upper parts of the forest are also preferred for sleeping; typically a branch situated eight to ten metres off the ground is selected, probably to avoid any nocturnal predators stalking the ground (2). 

Slash-and-burn agriculture, a common practice in Madagascar, alongside logging, poses the greatest threat to the survival of Milne-Edwards’ sifaka by destroying its rainforest habitat. Regrettably, such activities even take place within so-called protected areas (1).  Both gold mining and illegal rum production are also degrading suitable habitat in certain parts of the sifaka’s range (1). Compounding the threat of habitat loss, is the threat of hunting; being a large lemur, it is an attractive target for hunters. Luckily hunting is largely restricted to the northern part of Milne-Edwards’ sifaka’s range, as taboos are prevalent among local people in southern parts of its range (1).  

Milne-Ewards’ sifaka occurs in two national parks, Andringitra and Ranomafana (1), although as mentioned above, this does not offer this threatened lemur complete protection.  It is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meaning that international trade in this species is prohibited (3).  It has been suggested that unprotected areas of forest that harbour important populations of this species should be protected (1), but increased enforcement of such protected areas is also likely to be required if this Endangered species is to survive.

To find out more about the conservation of Madagascar’s primates see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Garbutt, N. (2007) Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide. A&C Black Publishers Ltd.
  3. CITES (March, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Forbes, H.O. (1896) A Hand-book to the Primates. Edward Lloyd Ltd, London.
  5. Wright, P., King, S.J., Baden, A. and Jernvall, J. (2008) Aging in wild Malagasy lemurs. In: Atsalis, S., Hof, P.R. and Margulis, S.W. (Eds.) Primate Reproductive Aging Cross-Taxon Perspectives. Karger, Basel, Switzerland.