Northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis)

Spanish: Lemur Comadreja Septentrional
GenusLepilemur (1)
SizeHead and body length: c. 28 cm (2)
Tail length: c. 25 cm (1)
Weight700 - 800 g (2)

The northern sportive lemur is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (3). Listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).

The name ‘sportive’ came about owing to this species’ interesting habit of adopting a boxer-like stance when threatened (1). Northern sportive lemurs (Lepilemur septentrionalis) are one of the smallest of the Lepilemurs and have pale grey-brown backs with a darker line that runs from the head down to the tail. There is some brown around the top of the head and around their shoulders, and their undersides are grey (2). With both eyes facing forwards they have excellent binocular vision (5). They are arboreal and nocturnal and move from tree to tree by leaping. They adopt a vertical posture, clinging to the tree with pads on their hands and feet (5). They then leap in this upright position (6).

The northern sportive lemur is restricted to the very northern-most parts of Madagascar, from the Montagne d’Ambre southwards to the Mahavay River and east to Vohemar (2).

Northern sportive lemurs live in both dry deciduous forests and the wetter evergreen forests (2).

Relatively little is known about the behaviour of these animals. Together with other sportive lemurs, they are believed to be ‘caecotrophic’, meaning they eat their faeces, digesting their food for a second time (5) (6). The reason for this behaviour is thought to be due to the low energy value of their food – chiefly leaves – which has to be fermented within their gut in order to allow bacteria to break down the cellulose and release the sugars and starches within the leaves. Rabbits also employ this process (7). As no mammal can digest cellulose on its own, it has to rely on bacteria to do this. Many other plant-eating mammals have evolved a system to extract as much nutrition as possible from their poor diets. The best-known examples are cows and sheep, which regurgitate food for a second chew (7).

Northern sportive lemurs give birth to a single youngster and they live together, with the mother leaving the baby on a branch whilst she feeds (5). Males are solitary and their territories sometimes overlap those of a number of females. The males will visit each female in the vicinity during the animals’ breeding season, but if he encounters another male within his territory he will defend it vigorously. They also call to indicate their presence within an area of forest (5).

These animals spend the daylight hours sleeping in holes in trees up to eight metres from the ground, although they have also been recorded as low as one metre. They have been reported as falling prey to Sanzinia madagascariensis, one of the three species of native boa, which takes lemurs from their sleeping holes (2).

Like much of the native fauna of Madagascar, northern sportive lemurs are at risk from loss of their habitats (2). Much of this habitat destruction is caused by extensive ‘slash and burn’ techniques as forests are destroyed to provide more agricultural land for an increasing population (8). The animals are also hunted for food in spite of being officially protected (2).

The population of northern sportive lemurs is believed to be between 10,000 and 100,000 animals, with as many as 564 individuals per square kilometre in some areas. It has been recorded in four protected areas in the north of Madagascar (2).

Learn about efforts to conserve the northern sportive lemur:

For more information on the northern sportive lemur:

Authenticated (17/10/2005) by Matt Richardson, independent primatologist and writer.

  1. Richardson, M. (2005) Pers. comm.
  2. Garbutt, N. (1999) Mammals of Madagascar. Pica Press, Sussex.
  3. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  4. CITES (May, 2004)
  5. Primate Behaviour (May, 2004)
  6. Durrell, G. (1992) The Aye-aye and I. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  7. Attenborough, D. (1979) Life on Earth. BBC, London.
  8. World Wildlife Fund (May, 2004)