White-footed sportive lemur (Lepilemur leucopus)

Also known as: Dry-bush weasel lemur
Spanish: Lemur Comadreja De Pies Blancos
GenusLepilemur (1)
SizeTotal length: 46 - 52 cm (2)
Tail length: 21.5 - 26 cm (2)
Weight500 - 700 g (2)

Classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

The white-footed sportive lemur is probably the smallest of the sportive lemurs, a genus of leaf-eating primates endemic to Madagascar (2) (4). In overall appearance, the sportive lemurs are broadly similar (2). All have a small, densely furred body, big eyes, a prominent conical muzzle, and relatively long hind legs that enable them to leap from tree to tree (2) (4) (5). The head and upperparts of the white-footed sportive lemur are generally pale grey, except around the face, shoulders, upper fore and hind limbs, and tail, which tend to be more brownish (2) (4). Underneath, it is whitish grey, particularly around the flanks and the base of the long, thin tail. The eyes are surrounded by whitish spectacles and the bases of the relatively large, membranous ears are marked by whitish tufts (2) (4) (5) (6).

The white-footed sportive lemur is restricted to southern Madagascar (2). However, the recent description of 22 new species of sportive lemur has thrown some doubt on the exact distribution of this species (1) (7) (8).

Found in gallery forests and dry spiny forests from sea level up to 300 metres (1) (2).

Despite the name, sportive lemurs are amongst the world’s laziest primates. However, in this instance laziness is not a lifestyle choice, but a necessary adaptation to a low-energy diet. In order for these small mammals to thrive on a meagre diet comprised almost entirely of leaves, they have developed extremely slow metabolic rates, requiring them to remain inactive for long periods (9) (5). The white-footed sportive lemur feeds mainly on the tough leaves of Didiereaceae and Euphorbiaceae species, as well as the leaves, and occasionally the flowers, of the tamarind (Tamarindus indica) (2) (9). This species is also reported to re-ingest its own faeces in an effort to maximise its nutritional intake (4) (5) (6), but direct evidence of this behaviour is apparently lacking (2) (9).

Like other Lepilemurids, the white-footed sportive lemur is arboreal and strictly nocturnal (2) (4). At night, individuals travel relatively short distances from daytime resting holes to forage sedately in the forest canopy. Long periods spent clinging vertically to a tree trunk are punctuated with periods of active foraging, when the powerful hind limbs are used to leap considerable distances from one perch to another (2). The small territorial home ranges are actively defended, with members of the same sex engaging in visual displays, vocalisations, chases and even severe fighting (6). Although normally solitary, particularly at night, the two sexes do sometimes share the same tree hole or liana tangle as a daytime sleeping site (2) (4) (6).

Breeding occurs from May to August, with a single young born between mid-September and December, following a gestation period of around 130 days. The infant is raised in a nest within a hollow tree and although weaned at around four months, may remain with its mother until it is over a year old (2) (6).

Like many of Madagascar’s lemurs, habitat loss presents the biggest threat to the white-footed sportive lemur. The burning of forests to create pasture and the felling of trees to make charcoal are principally responsible for a reduction in the area of forest inhabited by this species. In light of the recent taxonomic shake-up of the sportive lemur, the precise distribution of the white-footed sportive lemur has become unclear. This has precipitated the species classification as data deficient on the IUCN Red List, until its conservation status can be accurately assessed (1).

In addition to being listed on Appendix I of CITES, which permits trade of this species only under exceptional circumstances, the white-footed sportive lemur is known to occur within the Andohahela National Park and the Berenty Private Reserve (1). It is also known from the Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, but under the recent taxonomic upheaval of the genus, this population is treated as a separate species, L. petteri (1). Given the species current listing as Data Deficient, further research is urgently needed to accurately determine this species’ distribution in relation to the recently described Lepilemur species (1).

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Authenticated (05/06/2009) by Professor Leanne T. Nash, Professor of Anthropology, Arizona State University.

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)