Silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus)
|Synonyms:||Propithecus diadema candidus|
|Size||Total length: 93 – 105 cm (2)|
Head-body length: 48 – 54 cm (2)
Tail length: 45 – 51 cm (2)
|Weight||5 – 6.5 kg (2)|
The silky sifaka is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
Nicknamed ‘angel of the forest’ due to its creamy white fur (4), the silky sifaka is a stunning and highly distinctive animal. The long, silky, white fur, which is sometimes tinted with silver hues on top of the head, the back and limbs (2) (5), contrasts with the bare, black face and deep orange eyes (2) (5). The lower back and the base of the tail may sometimes be darker and discoloured, and adult males often have a large, brown patch on the chest, caused by scent-marking using the gland on the chest (2). Some silky sifakas lack skin pigment on the face and other areas, and as a consequence have pink patches of variable size (2).
Sifakas gain their name from the shee-fak call they make to maintain contact within their group (6), but the silky sifaka also produces a zzuss call to indicate the presence of a predator and to communicate information about the identity of the caller to other group members (2).
The silky sifaka has a very small range in north-eastern Madagascar (7). Although the exact limits of this species’ distribution are not clear, it extends from Marojejy in the north, to Makira and the Antainambalana River in the south (1) (2). Within this restricted range, the silky sifaka occurs at low densities and is patchily distributed (1).
An inhabitant of tropical, moist forest (1), the silky sifaka is most commonly encountered between 700 and 1,875 metres above sea level (7).
This diurnal lemur begins its day at dawn when it commences foraging (2). Mature and young leaves (7), fruit and seeds make up 75 percent of the silky sifaka’s diet, while around 15 percent is flowers and the remainder comprises bark and soil (2). When not feeding or searching for food, the silky sifaka can be found resting in the forest canopy (around 45 percent of the day is spent in this manner), or socially interacting with other members of the group (2).
The silky sifaka lives in groups of two to nine individuals (7); smaller groups consist of an adult pair with their offspring, while larger groups may contain more than one breeding pair (2). Led by the females, a group travels approximately 700 metres each day, around a home range measuring up to 44 hectares (2). Mating primarily takes place between November and January and the young is born in June or July. Initially, the tiny infant will cling to the mother’s belly and later will ride on her back as she travels through the forest (2). Indicating the strong bonds within silky sifaka groups, other group members, not just the mother, have been observed taking part in the infant’s care, through carrying, nursing, grooming and playing (2).
With an estimated 250 mature individuals remaining in the wild (1), the silky sifaka is one of the three rarest lemurs in all of Madagascar (4). Habitat destruction and hunting are the primary threats that have brought the silky sifaka to this perilous position and continue to threaten the future survival of this species. Habitat destruction, such as slash-and-burn agriculture, logging, and mining, takes place even within so-called protected areas and (7), unfortunately, with such activities often comes improved infrastructure, such as roads, augmenting hunting opportunities (1). Sadly, unlike several sifakas, no taboos against hunting this species exist and many people in Madagascar view wild lemur meat as a delicacy (7).
The silky sifaka is present in a few protected areas: the Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve, Marojejy National Park and, more rarely, the Anjanaharibe and Manandriana portions of the Makira Protected Area (1) (7). Marojejy National Park forms part of the World Heritage Site, ‘The Rainforests of the Atsinanana’ for which the silky sifaka is a flagship species (7) (8). It has been recommended that other areas of forest where the silky sifaka has been recorded should be protected (1). However, as mentioned above, the designation of protected areas does not always provide this Critically Endangered sifaka with the absolute protection it requires. A lack of awareness and understanding amongst local people of this sifaka’s rarity and uniqueness is one obstacle in conservation efforts and, as a result, a conservation education programme took place in 2004, with encouraging results; many local people were interested in learning more about this species and showed concern for its plight (4).
To learn more about efforts to conserve the silky sifaka visit:
Silky Sifaka: Conservation and Research in Madagascar:
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- Diurnal: active during the day.
- Home range: the area occupied by an animal during routine activities, which is not actively defended.
- Slash-and-burn: the cutting and burning of forests or woodlands to create space for agriculture or livestock.
IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
- Garbutt, N. (2007) Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide. A&C Black Publishers Ltd.
CITES (April, 2010)
- Patel, E.R., Marshall, J.J. and Parathian, H. (2005) Silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus) conservation education in northeastern Madagascar. Laboratory Primate Newsletter, 44(3): 8-11.
- Ankel-Simons, F.A. (2000) Primate Anatomy: An Introduction. Academic Press, San Diego.
- Macdonald, D.W. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Mittermeier, R.A., Valladares-Pádua, C., Rylands, A.B., Eudey, A.A., Butynski, T.M., Ganzhorn, J.U., Kormos, R., Aguiar, J.M. and Walker, S. (2006) Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2004 – 2006. Primate Conservation, 20: 1 - 28.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites (April, 2010)