Creature of the Week #7: Coquerel’s Sifaka

After the Indri, the Sifakas are the largest members of the lemur family, and the Coquerel’s Sifaka Propithecus coquereli is one of 9 species that inhabits the lemur homeland of Madagascar. With physical barriers such as rivers proving an un-passable barrier for most lemurs, the speciation of these different sifakas has been allowed to occur, each adapted to their own specific region and habitat. In the Coquerel’s case, this is the dry forests on the Mid-Western edge of the Island.

While many lemurs are unsurprisingly shy of humans due to the Malagasy’s fondness of the primates as dinner, the indri and sifakas are taboo to hunt, as they are believed to be the reincarnated spirits of their dead ancestors. Subsequently, they are far less wary of people, and the sifaka in this photo was just many I saw whilst on an expedition to the Mahavamo Forest with Operation Wallacea this Summer that would take no heed of us, both on forest surveys and whilst in camp, allowing great photo opportunities as they sat above our heads crunching fruit.

Unfortunately, like most lemurs (and in fact most of Madagascar’s fauna) all sifakas are threatened to an extent, and the Coquerel’s Sifaka is currently listed as ‘Endangered’ on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. The terrifyingly rapid decimation of Madagascar’s forests for development and agriculture of course play a large part, but ironically the stronger presence of conservation science on the island has convinced many communities that there is nothing spiritual about sifakas; not only are they as tasty as any other lemur, but easier to catch. As conservation might as well not be bothered with if you can’t get the support from the locals, changing their perceptions of the sifaka whilst not intruding too heavily on their own needs and cultural values will, and is, proving an interesting challenge.

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