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Ring-tailed lemur

Scientific name: Lemur catta

Country: MadagascarRing-tailed lemur

Continent: Africa

Diet: Fruits - frugivore - especially the pods of the Tamarind tree, leaves - folivore, flowers, very occasional insects

Food & feeding: Herbivore

Habitats: Tropical dry forest, scrub forest

Conservation status: Near threatened

Relatives: Indri, sifaka, mongoose lemur, aye-aye

Description: The best known of all the lemurs. They are about 45 cm long, covered in grey fur, with a black and white striped tail. Like all lemurs the hands and feet are soft and have nails just as we do.

Lifestyle: Ring-tailed lemurs often feed in trees (arboreal), but also on the ground. Many of the trees and bushes in which they feed are very spiny, yet somehow they avoid the spines as they jump from branch to branch. The semi-desert area in which they live can get very cold at night. Lemurs warm up by sunbathing in the light of the morning sun.

Family & friends: Their groups average 15, varying from 5 to 30 individuals and they live in small home ranges that contain all the necessities of life. There are both male and female dominance hierarchies, but females are dominant within the group. Females stay with the group in which they were born, while males may leave when they reach adulthood.

Keeping in touch: The striped tail is used as a flag when they are walking on the ground, held aloft where others can see. The tail is also used in 'stink fights' where the animals rub their tails against scent glands on their arms and wave them over their heads at the opponent. Lemurs have longer and more sensitive noses than other primates. This suggests that smell is an important way of communicating for them. They also chatter among themselves with series of barks and alarm screams when frightened.

Growing up: A female can start breeding at about two years of age. She has one birth per year, either a single baby or twins, after a gestation period of four months. The babies weigh 50-80 grams at birth. They are independent of their mothers within a year and may start to breed at 15 months. In captivity they can live as long as 20 years.

Ring-tails in the wild occasionally pick up toxic millipedes and rub themselves all over with the foul-smelling juices from the millipede. The juices may act as an insect repellent, the lemur equivalent of flea-spray.

Conservation news: There are over 1000 ring-tailed lemurs in zoos worldwide, but only 10,000 - 100,000 in the wild. The dry, scrubby forest in which they live is being destroyed by slash and burn agriculture, charcoal production and mining for gemstones and minerals. On 28th September 2002 a new reserve was opened in South West Madagascar. The Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park covers 36,000 hectares and supports a large population of ring-tails. The area had previously been threatened with mining, following discovery of valuable sapphires in the area.

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