Western woolly lemur (Avahi occidentalis)

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Western woolly lemur in tree
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Western woolly lemur fact file

Western woolly lemur description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderPrimates
FamilyIndriidae
GenusAvahi (1)

Western woolly lemurs are medium sized lemurs that, like all indriids, are characterized by long powerful hind limbs adapted to their specialized mode of locomotion: vertical clinging and leaping (2) (3). The dense and woolly coat is pale grey on the underparts and throat and medium-grey on the upper parts, with tinges of sandy brown on the back and tail. The face is rounded and pale with a dark muzzle. Although similar in overall appearance to its eastern relative, the eastern woolly lemur (Avahi laniger), the western woolly lemur is smaller in size and much paler (2).

Also known as
Lorenz von Liburnau’s woolly lemur, western Avahi.
Size
Head-body length: 25 – 28.5 cm (2)
Tail length: 31 – 36.5 cm (2)
Weight
700 – 900 g (2)
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Western woolly lemur biology

The basic social group of the western woolly lemur consists of a monogamous breeding pair and their offspring (2) (5). A single offspring is usually born between September and October after a gestation period of 120 to 150 days, and juveniles may remain with their natal group until up to two years of age (2) (5). Family units occupy overlapping home ranges of two hectares and territories are defended and demarcated via calls (2).

Almost exclusively nocturnal, the western woolly lemur becomes active around dusk. The family unit largely stays together while foraging. The bulk of the diet consists of young leaves and buds taken from at least 20 different plant species (2). This folivorous diet is, however, highly specialized, including tree species that are relatively rare (6).

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Western woolly lemur range

Restricted to fragmented areas of western and north-western Madagascar (2). The population in Bemaraha, traditionally classed as Avahi occidentalis, has recently been reclassified as a distinct species, Avahi cleesei (4).

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Western woolly lemur habitat

Found in dry deciduous forests and moist forests in the Sambirano region (2). Predominantly arboreal, most often found in the canopy (5).

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Western woolly lemur status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Western woolly lemur threats

15 species of lemur have become extinct since sea-faring humans arrived on Madagascar’s shores around 2,000 years ago, and humanity is still wreaking ecological destruction on the island (7). Habitat destruction through forest felling and burning poses the principle threat to the biodiversity on Madagascar, including the western woolly lemur (2). Small-scale but widespread clearing of forests is conducted for firewood, cattle grazing, charcoal production, and construction materials. In the dry season people often set brush fires to clear pasture for cattle but the fires frequently burn out of control and threaten protected areas (8). Hunting also occurs in some regions. These factors, coupled with the species’ restricted range, give cause for concern (2).

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Western woolly lemur conservation

The western woolly lemur is confirmed in only two protected areas, Ankarafantsika Nature Reserve and Manongarivo Special Reserve, although this species has also been reported in Ankarana Special Reserve (2) (4). It has so far been impossible to keep western woolly monkeys in captivity, probably because of their highly selective folivorous diet. It appears, therefore, that conservation of forests in situ where this species occurs is the best viable option of protecting the western woolly lemur (6).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on the western woolly lemur see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (14/11/2005) by Matt Richardson, independent primatologist and writer.

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Glossary

Arboreal
Living in trees.
Folivorous
Leaf eating.
Nocturnal
Being active at night.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Garbutt, N. (1999) Mammals of Madagascar. Pica Press, Sussex.
  3. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Richardson, M. (2005) Pers. comm.
  5. The Primata (October, 2005)
    http://www.theprimata.com/avahi_occidentalis.html
  6. Thalmann, U. and Geissmann, T. (2000) Distribution and Geographic Variation in the Western Woolly Lemur (Avahi occidentalis) with Description of a New Species. International Journal of Primatology, 21(6): 915 - 941. Available at:
    http://www.tiho-hannover.de/gibbons/main/abstracts/non-gibbon_stuff/pdf_files/2000newavahi.pdf
  7. Madagascan Wildlife Conservation (October, 2005)
    http://www.mwc-info.net/en/index.htm
  8. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) (October, 2005)
    http://worldwildlife.org/wildplaces/mad/threats.cfm
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Image credit

Western woolly lemur in tree  
Western woolly lemur in tree

© Nathan Harrison / www.nathan-harrison.com

Nathan Harrison
Tel: 07812003420
nathan@nathan-harrison.com

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