Status: Critically Endangered
Known as: Greater Bamboo Lemur, Broad-nosed Gentle Lemur, Broad-nosed Bamboo Lemur.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: Less than 250.
The greater bamboo lemur is a small primate despite its name, weighing only 2.5 kilograms and measuring between 25 and 46 centimetres overall. The animal’s tail is up to 56 centimetres long. These lemurs are the largest bamboo lemurs, a group of closely related species that live almost exclusively on bamboo, like pandas. The lemur’s plump body and long tail are covered in thick, plush fur, greyish brown except for white tufts on the ears. The lemur’s benign face conceals powerful jaws that are necessary for ripping through tough, living bamboo.
The greater bamboo lemur is one of a mere handful of animals adapted to eating nothing but bamboo, much like the giant panda of China. They live in bamboo groves and forests in Madagascar, where an abundant supply of their food is readily to hand. Several adaptations help the lemurs cope with their specialized and rather dramatic diet. One is their immunity to the toxicity of young bamboo leaves, which are poisonous to nearly every other mammal. This allows them to keep eating steadily even after the rainy season has ended and new shoots stop sprouting. Their strong teeth and jaws let them rip through the tough outer layers of mature bamboo to get at the softer material inside.
Greater bamboo lemurs are shy and prefer the cover of darkness, emerging in the dusk to begin feeding and staying active throughout the night. These animals seem to live in small groups of no more than half a dozen individuals, though slightly larger groupings have been spotted on rare occasions. One group needs around 60 hectares of bamboo for its territory. Male lemurs are quite dominant and will appropriate food found by females. Other details of their life cycle remain fairly unknown, however, in part because so few remain to study.
Location: The greater bamboo lemur was never truly widespread, confined as it was to Madagascar bamboo forest. Today, however, its range has shrunk to an alarmingly small fraction of that original area, with the lemur found exclusively in two small regions in the south-east of Madagascar. These lemurs live only in areas of rainforest where giant bamboo grows thickly.
Threats: The greater bamboo lemur is massively threatened by human activities and is in strong danger of extinction. Hunting initially depleted their numbers, and continues to this day, with slingshot hunting being the most commonly practised method. Habitat destruction, including intensive harvesting of bamboo, is perhaps an even more massive threat. Fragmentation of habitat hits the lemurs especially hard because of their reliance on readily available quantities of bamboo.
Conservation efforts: Urgent conservation measures are underway by the World Wildlife Foundation, the Aspinall Foundation Madagascar Program, and several other organizations. These include outreach to local communities to build more sustainable practices that will not threaten lemur habitat as much, and active measures such as destroying lemur traps. Captive breeding programs and improved protection for lemur habitat are either planned or in the process of development.
The Aspinall Foundation
The Aspinall Foundation works with different local partners in Madagascar to protect the Greater Bamboo Lemur and its habitat.