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The rarest lemur on Earth: Perrier’s Sifaka

Practically the counterpart to the white Silky Sifaka is the closely related Black Sifaka or Perrier’s Sifaka (Propithecus perrieri). With a height of 85 to 92 cm and a weight of three to six kilograms, it belongs to the larger lemurs, with the tail accounting for up to 46 cm of its total length. Suitably to the name these animals have completely black, silky shining fur. Only the face, ears, palms and feet are hairless.

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Black Sifaka

In contrast to the white Silky Sifakas, Black Sifakas do not occur in the damp rainforest, but prefer rather dry to semi-moist areas in the northernmost tip of Madagascar. Its current distribution area is in the dry broadleaf and floodplain forests of Analamerana National Park and the Andrafiamena protected area, which is managed by the non-governmental organization Fanamby. The northern border is the river Irodo, the southern border is the river Lokia; thus the area covers almost 300 km². A few decades ago Black Sifakas were also seen in Ankarana National Park, but today they are extinct there. Most of the forest fragments inhabited by them are not connected, which means that no exchange between the individual Sifaka groups can take place. Many of the individual habitats are less than one square kilometre in size and lie at altitudes between sea level and 600 metres. The climate is highly seasonal with a cooler dry season from May to October and a warm rainy season in the remaining months.

Black Sifakas live in small groups of two to six animals, whereby always a female holds the leading position. Females may eat generally first and in better places. Usually a male lives together with several females, but there are also single living couples. Each group moves over the year in a fixed territory of about 0.3 km². From the outside, one can hardly distinguish between the two sexes. They communicate with each other through different sounds, which include both clear warnings and noises that resemble a sneeze. Black Sifakas are known as not very aggressive towards other Sifakas. This could also be due to the fact that the few remaining groups rarely meet each other. Like other Sifaka species, they feed purely vegetable. In the rainy season they eat the fruits and seeds of the sprouting green. If it comes to the dry season from May, they change to the remaining, meager food with predominantly leaves, stalks, now and then flowers. Over 30 different plant species have been identified on the black Sifakas’ menu so far.

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Habitat of the Black Sifaka

With four to five years, Black Sifakas become sexually mature. Afterwards they can give birth to young every year or every two years, whereby more than half of the young die before they reach the age of one. The young are born in June and July after approximately six months of gestation. Surviving young animals are independent of the care of their parents at the age of two years. Much is not yet known about the reproduction, ways of life and social behaviour of the Black Sifakas. As loot-animals, Black Sifakas serve probably only the Fossa and stray dogs, who can hunt the Sifakas successfully particularly when crossing of open grass-landscapes. Larger birds of prey can pose a danger to young Sifakas.

The survival of the Black Sifakas is currently in danger. The species is one of the 25 most endangered primates worldwide, in their currently populated habitats there are no more than 155 individuals left. The IUCN lists the species as critically endangered, so as threatened with extinction. Whether a stable population can develop from the remaining Black Sifakas again, is more than questionable. The low reproduction rate of the animals in combination with the very rapid, massive reduction of their already fragmented habitat is a bottleneck from which the Black Sifakas can hardly escape. Both illegal felling of valuable tropical timber and widespread slash-and-burn are major problems that are difficult to counteract after the political crisis until 2014. More than a quarter of the Black Sifakas also live in areas that have no protection status and in which accordingly no more forests are likely to be left soon.

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Female with her young

In 2013, a plan to protect Madagascar’s lemurs was developed by various researchers and scientists. For the Black Sifaka, it is recommended that the existing protected areas be enlarged and that reforestation projects be implemented with the help of the local population to restore corridors connecting the forest fragments. In addition, forest patrols and other research stations are to be set up to supplement the lack of knowledge about the Black Sifakas and thus make protection more effective. At the same time, the local villages are to be shown alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture by means of chicken and duck breeding, and nature conservation and environmental protection are to become a major topic in the surrounding schools. An ambitious plan, whose implementation and equally important with it the rescue of the Black Sifakas is above all a question of the money and the motivation and patience of the involved ones. Little has happened so far.

More to read about this topic:

      • Lemurs of Madagascar – a strategy for their conservation 2013-2016
        Great britain 2013 | Authors: Mittermaier et al
      • An international conservation and research programme for Perrier’s sifaka
        Lemur News Vol 10, p. 1– 2 | USA 2006 | Autor: Christoph Schwitzer, Olivier Arnoult, Berthe Rakotosamimanana

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