Lemurs: No holiday in Madagascar would be complete without seeing one of the most unique animals on the planet, the lemur. Native only to this country and often only occupying a particular part of the island a glimpse of the rarest species can be hard to come by such as the Golden Bamboo lemur which can be seen in and around Ranomafana national park in the central highlands.
There are currently over 100 know species of lemur ranging from the tiniest mouse lemur weighing in at 30g to the Indri which can reach 10kg. This is small in comparison to Archaeoindris lemur which weighed in the region of 160-200kg but is long since extinct and was the largest ever primate.
My first up close encounter with a lemur came at Isalo national park in the southern part of the island. The park, which is famous for its distinctive sandstone rock formations is also home to many families of lemurs. The lemurs here, particularly the Ring-tailed are accustomed to people and they come quite close and very close if they think there is a possibility of stealing some food.
Famous for their distinctive black and white ring tail which is often over 60cm in length and longer than their bodies, it sticks up in the air as they walk around. They are one of the most abundant species of lemur in Madagascar but are still listed as endangered with a decreasing population.
As I sat having lunch in Isalo I was aware that I was being watched by some of the family of Ring-tailed above me in the branches of the trees. The most curious of the group hopped down onto the ground and had a walk around near the table but the occasional whoosh sound from the guide Hery made them retreat before they got too close. This did not put them off however and they kept a good eye on what was going on. They walked around at a leisurely pace on all fours their distinctive tails pointing up like a beacon making them impossible to miss. They have white furry faces, pointed black noses and inquisitive orange eyes which have a mischievous air about them and this group had a carefree attitude in the presence of people.
Ring-tailed lemurs are very good on the ground and spend quite a lot of their time there which is unusual as most other lemur species tend to try to spend most of their time in the trees. Living in family groups of between 6-30 members they are female dominated. This domination extends to all areas of Ring-tiled life and with the dominant female getting having feeding priority.
My second encounter with a family of Ring-tailed was at Berenty reserve in the south east of the country a few hours inland from the coastal city of Fort Dauphin. While I was waiting to see another lemur, the Verreaux Sifaka, a family of about twenty Ring-tails walked up the trail and within feet of me, some of them giving me a good looking over as they went. One of them even had a baby on her back as she strolled casually past. I watched the twenty tails wander off into the distance waving as they went. Later that morning I came across more of them when I was at the area for the breeding programme of the Spider Tortoise. The baby tortoises were having breakfast of ripe mango and were joined by some cheeky Ring-tailed noisy chomping away on the tortoise breakfast.
As my trip of Madagascar continued I came across more species of lemur including the Indri, Diademed Sifakas, Dancing lemurs and Bamboo lemurs. The species of lemurs I did see were magical each time I was lucky enough to come across them and made the sometimes difficult roads more than worth it.