A Coquerel’s sifaka is a delicate leaf-eater from Madagascar’s dry northwestern forests. It is distinguished from other species of lemur by the way it moves about: they keep a distinct vertical posture while leaping through the trees by using just their strong back legs. When on the ground, they move just as gracefully, with an elegant sideways hopping on two legs. The Coquerel’s sifaka is a very beautiful lemur, which was once considered to be a subspecies of Verreaux’s sifaka. It has some very interesting behaviors and does look different to other sifakas in the same range.
Coquerel’s sifaka inhabit Madagascar’s north-west, to the east and north of the Betsiboka River. They live in forests of old growth and secondary growth with mixed evergreen and deciduous trees. They will travel through scrub habitat on their way between fragmented forest patches.
Habits and lifestyle
Coquerel’s sifakas are diurnal creatures and live in matriarchal groups that number 3 to 10 individuals. A female typically remains with her natal group, while a male is forced to disperse when he reaches maturity. Males will often switch groups, and they do not often remain with one group longer than 8 years. Females are usually dominant over males and can be aggressive. If a male disobeys, a female may lunge, bite or smack. Male submission is shown via posturing, including cowering, rolling the tail between the legs, baring their teeth in a grimace, and jumping out of the way of the female. Submission may also be expressed through vocalizations, mostly soft calls. Coquerel’s sifakas are primarily arboreal, sometimes descending from the canopy to travel between fragments of forest or to retrieve fallen food. Allo-grooming and play have an important role in the development and maintenance of intra-group hierarchies and social relationships.
Diet and nutrition
The Coquerel’s sifaka is a herbivore, eating both mature and immature leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit and bark.
Coquerel’s sifakas are polyandrous, females mating with intra-group males or with males from visiting groups. The males have been seen fighting for access to females, but the winner is not always the one chosen to mate with. The breeding season is in January and February. Gestation is for about 162 days and usually one infant is born, and this is during the dry season from June to July. Infants cling to their mother's belly during travel until the age of about 1 month, when they move to her back. Weaning takes place during the wet season at about 5 to 6 months old, and the young are completely independent once they reach 6 months. Most of them attain adult size between 1 to 5 years, this being dependent on habitat conditions and availability of forage. Both males and females reach sexual maturity between 2 to 3.5 years old, though some females first give birth as late as 6 years old.
Hunting is a big threat to these endangered animals. Local traditions hold that hunting this species is taboo, but people immigrating into the region may not share the same views. Hunting even takes place within national parks. The forests in north-western Madagascar are gradually being burnt annually to provide new pasture for livestock, while trees are cut down for the making of charcoal, including in protected areas, which jeopardizes the future of the Coquerel’s sifaka.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Coquerel’s sifaka population size is around 200,000 individuals. Currently this species is classified as Endangered (EN) and its numbers are decreasing today.
Coquerel’s sifakas benefit the environment, due to their diet, by aiding in seed dispersal, thus assisting plant life to increase. They are also prey for a number of native and introduced vertebrate predators.
Fun facts for kids
- ‘Sifaka’, the Malagasy name, derives from this animal’s distinct call, ‘shif-auk’, made as it is travelling through the trees.
- Coquerel’s sifakas, according to Malagasy culture, are often seen as “sacred sun worshippers.” Such a view quite possibly comes from their tendency to bask in the sun in the early morning before heading off to forage for food.
- Both through the trees and on the ground, Coquerel’s sifakas are good jumpers, easily travelling almost as far as 40 feet (12.2 meters) when moving from tree to tree. On the ground they move by “dancing,” hopping like a kangaroo.
- Coquerel’s sifakas huddle together in groups on cold nights, sitting along a branch in single file, to help stay warm. This has been described as similar to people sitting on a toboggan.
- Coquerel’s sifaka, as with many other lemurs, have lower incisors that are specialized for grooming. These teeth are tall, thin, and evenly spaced, and help to clean and comb their hair. Individuals at rest are often seen combing and licking each other’s hair.