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Red-fronted Lemur

Eulemur rufifrons

  1. Not Evaluated
  2. Data Deficient
  3. Least Concern
  4. Near Threatened
  5. Vulnerable
  6. Endangered
  7. Critically Endangered
  8. Extinct in the Wild
  9. Extinct

About Us

The red-fronted lemur is one of the few species of lemur which is not classified as endangered; they are only classed as near threatened.

Although they are called red fronted it is actually only the female who has a reddish coat, with a small patch of black on her head. The males are a pale grey colour and only have a small patch of red on top of their head.

There are two male red-fronted lemurs here at Woburn, Ronnie and Charlie. They are usually found curled up asleep together or grooming each other. Charlie is missing an arm from an accident when he was young, however it doesn’t stop him running and jumping around as much as the rest of the other lemur species in the exhibit, he is one of the most agile of the group!

Distribution
Madagascar
Habitat
Moist lowland and montane forest in the East, and dry tropical forest in the West
Height
body length 35 to 48cm, tail length 45 to 55cm
Weight
2kg to 2.8kg
Lifespan
Wild 20 to 25 years, in captivity 25 years or longer
Threats
Habitat loss and capture for the meat trade.

Physical Features

Red-fronted lemurs are sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female differ in appearance. The female of the species has the red colouration of their name, with a small patch of black on the head. The male is a pale grey colour, with a small patch of red on the head. Both sexes have a distinctive black streak down the centre of the face and nose.

They are agile climbers, with hands similar in structure to a human hand, including an opposable thumb, allowing them to grip when climbing and to hold objects. Their back feet feature a large modified big toe allowing them to grip with their hind feet just as easily.

They have a long thick tail, which although not prehensile, it is vital for balance when climbing and jumping, and is longer than their body length.

Lemurs have a much more developed sense of smell than other primates. They have an enlarged Jacobson’s organ, a sensory organ in their nose which allows them to read pheromones and other chemicals. Scent marking is an important behaviour for the red-fronted lemur, using scent glands located on the head.

Diet

The red-fronted lemur is cathemeral, meaning they are active intermittently throughout the day and night. They eat mostly fruit, constituting over 50% of their diet, but will also feed on bark, leaves, insects, and other invertebrates.

Because of their fruit heavy diet they act as an important seed dispenser throughout the forest.

Social Structure, Breeding, and Communication

Red-fronted lemurs are arboreal, spending most of their time in the upper canopy of the trees. They have large home ranges of over 100 hectares. The centre 50 hectares of this acts as their core area, where most activity occurs, but they will venture further, and if food is scarce they will leave their home range altogether.

They are a social species with groups numbering between four to eighteen individuals, including an equal mix of males and females. In general, there is a lack of strong male-female bonds or special relationships in this species. The females may spend more time with one core male than others, but will mate with all males in the group. Unusually for lemurs the female of the species is not dominant, although they do lead the group when foraging, directing them to food sources.

Females will give birth to one infant, who will be carried by her for around four months before becoming independent. During this time the female will isolate herself from a group. Males reach sexual maturity at three to four years, females as two to four years.

Vocalisation is important for this species. With such a large home rang it is vital for communicating with the rest of the group. They have a series of specific calls for different predators, including a raptor alarm call, and fossa alarm call. They share the same predators as the Verreaux's sifaka, and so both species have learned to recognise each other’s specific alarm calls to benefit themselves.

Husbandry and Enrichment

In the wild lemurs would be found up in the mid to upper canopy of the trees, very rarely on the ground. To allow them to mimic this natural behaviour their enclosure is designed with large trees to traverse, and ropes connecting different areas. The lemurs use these ropes and branches to manoeuvre around the enclosure well, promoting exercise, and demonstrating their natural climbing and jumping abilities when doing so.

Wild lemurs will spend most of their day foraging for food. To mimic this, and to keep our lemurs active, we spread their feeds throughout the enclosure, hiding food, placing it high up, making it hard to reach, and changing our feeding locations daily to keep them on their toes.

Lemurs are a small brained and less intelligent group of species, so we have to make sure our enrichment isn’t too complicated, for example hiding food in puzzle feeders may prove too difficult for them to figure out.

Madagascar can have changing weather, from rain to severe heat and so the lemurs are adapted to both, but we give them a heated house all year round, with the option to venture into the cold, to mimic the temperature range in Madagascar.

Threats and Conservation

The main natural predators for the red-fronted lemur are the fossa, Madagascar harrier hawk, and Henst’s goshawk.

The main threat to lemurs is habitat loss, due to slash-and-burn agriculture, logging, and mining. This destroys habitats, and vital forest corridors which allow groups to move between locations. Almost 90% of the natural forest in Madagascar has been destroyed since human habitation of the island.

Although a large amount of conservation work is going on there is still a lot to do in terms of educating the people to the plight of all lemur species, and recovering the habitat before reintroduction can be a viable option. There are several conservation projects ongoing in Madagascar, including education projects, habitat repair, and eco-tourism. Some reintroductions of captive bred lemurs have been trialled in the past, but with mixed results.

This species is also part of an ESB, European studbook, meaning there is a keeper responsible for collecting all the data on births, deaths, and transfers for this species in Europe, and producing a studbook. They can also be asked for recommendations for breeding or transfers. Through their data collection they can assess how well a species is doing in captivity and if it needs to be managed more intensively as an EEP species.

The red-fronted lemur is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, and is listed on Appendix I of CITES, meaning the movement of this species is greatly controlled and restricted, trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Fun Facts

Red-fronted lemurs are cathemeral, which means they are active intermittently through both the day and night!

Red-fronted lemurs are one of the few lemur species where the female is not dominant!

Madagascar is the only place lemurs are found in the wild!

They have different alarm calls to warn of specific predators, and have learned to recognise some other lemur species’ specific alarm calls!