One of the largest lemur species, the Indri lemur (otherwise known as the Babakoto), is a rather unique animal. This primate is known for its human-like behaviors, atypical characteristics and an unusual appearance, resembling a teddy bear. The animal exhibits small eyes, round ears and a button nose. The coloration of their fur largely depends on the locality. However, they are often totally black and brownish with red and white patches.
The Indri lemur is a native Madagascar species, where this animal was abundant and widespread throughout in the 1900s. The current range of the Babakoto is restricted to the area between Mangoro River and Sambava city in the eastern part of the island. Ideal habitat for this species is coastal and montane rainforest.
The Indri lemurs are diurnal creatures, spending around 30 - 60% of their active time feeding. Meanwhile, the amount of active time per day depends on season and duration of daylight. These arboreal animals travel between trees by taking vertical leaps. When moving along the ground, they typically jump while keeping their arms above their head. Indris are highly social animals, living in family groups of 3 - 5 individuals (two adults and their young), which are led by a single dominant female. These groups travel about 300 - 700 m per day. Males are responsible for defending the home range of the group against intruders as well as marking the territory with urine and secretions. The latter are produced by special glands, found in the muzzle of this animal. The distinctive call of the Indri lemurs is composed of multiple howls, intended to keep unity of the group and display territoriality. Additionally, some of these howls may carry information on age, gender and breeding ability of individuals.
Indris are monogamous, which means that one male mates with one female exclusively. The breeding season in this species is May-June, although they breed once every 2 - 3 years rather than breeding annually. Gestation period lasts for 4 - 5 months. For the first few months of their lives, young lemurs cling onto the belly of their mother. After a while, they ride on her back and are finally weaned at 6 months old. Infants reach independence at 8 months old, but tend to continue living with their mother until 2 - 3 years old. However, nearly half of them will not reach 2 years old because of sickness or injury. Female lemurs are ready to produce offspring of their own at 7 - 9 years old.
Hunting of this species is a taboo or 'fady' among local people due to the similarity of the Indri lemur with the sacred ancestors of the Malagasy. Nevertheless, these animals are known to be killed for food by immigrants. Due to extremely fragmented habitat, the Indri lemurs live in isolated populations and only few areas of their range are large enough to create suitable conditions for successful reproduction. On the other hand, fuel, timber as well as development of slash-and-burn agriculture currently lead to considerable loss of their rainforest habitat, which affects even populations in protected areas. And finally, all above-mentioned factors are compounded by very low birth rate, making the Indri lemurs a highly vulnerable species.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Indri population size is 1,000-10,000 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) and its numbers are decreasing.
On one hand, due to their diet, the Indri lemurs act as seed dispersers of certain plants. On the other hand, they form an important link in the food chain of their habitat, being a key prey species for many local predators.