Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 13:20 EDT

Coquerel’s Sifaka, Propithecus coquereli

Coquerel’s sifaka (Propithecus coquereli) is native only to the island of Madagascar. It can only be found in habitats that are at an altitude of less than 300 feet in arid deciduous forests. These areas include coastal forests and it mainly resides east and north of the Betsiboka River. Its range extends south to Ambato-Boéni.

As is typical with all lemurs, Coquerel’s sifaka is a tree dweller, and so has long, muscular legs that allow it to leap and climb trees. It has a body length that can reach 19.6 inches, and a tail length that can reach 23.6 inches. The average weight of an adult Coquerel’s sifaka is around 8.8 pounds. The dense fur on the back and tail of this sifaka is typically white in color, while sections of the limb and chest fur are burgundy in color. The face and ears are both black, with white appearing on the bridge of the nose. Its eyes are orange or yellow in color.

Coquerel’s sifaka is active during the day and will spend most of its time in trees.  It tends to live in groups of three to ten individuals, in which females are typically at the top of the social hierarchy.  Matriarchal social structures are common among lemurs, but do not occur often throughout nature. Females take precedence over males especially during feeding, when the male must wait his turn to eat. If he upsets the female, she may bite, lunge at, or smack the offender. The male exhibits submissive behavior by tucking his tail between his legs, chattering and grimacing, and then swiftly jumping out of the way. The home range of each group of Coquerel’s sifaka can reach up to 19.7 acres, but each group tends to be active in only 7.4 acres of the area. Different home ranges can overlap, but each group will practice avoidance in order to escape aggression.

When mating season occurs in January to February, females will have first choice of mates, and they often choose multiple males to mate with from either their own group or groups that overlap their population ranges. This decreases the chance of male infanticide, and also increases male aggression, although the female may not choose to mate with the victor.

Baby Coquerel’s sifakas are typically born between June and July, and will hang onto their mother’s belly until about four weeks of age. After this time, it will move to its mother’s back and will remain there until the age of six months, when it is weaned. At one year of age, the young sifaka reaches maturity.

Coquerel’s sifaka, as with other lemurs, have many vocalizations and will also communicate using scent markings. The common “shih-fak” vocalization that all sifakas will emit starts with a guttural bubbling sound and is followed by a quick “hiccup” sound. This call is typically used to alert the group of intruders or terrestrial predators, and is often accompanied with a visual communication in which the sifaka will jerk back its head. Other common calls include growls and small grunts, and a howl that is used to find lost members of each group. Males and females will both use scent marking to communicate, but in different manners. The male will use a scent gland located on the throat to rub against branches, while the female will use glands located on the genitals. It is not known whether these markings are used for anything more than noting territorial boundaries.

As is typical with most lemurs, Coquerel’s sifaka will move vertically through the trees by leaping and climbing. While moving in between branches and trunks, or while at rest, it will remain in an upright position.
Occasionally, Coquerel’s sifaka will move to the ground in order to cross spaces with limited tree growth. While on the ground, it will leap into the air, leaning in one direction to propel itself forward and using its outstretched arms for balance.

The diet of Coquerel’s sifaka varies depending on the season. In dryer months, it will eat adult leaves and shoots, while in wetter months it prefers to eat young leaves, fruit, bark, flowers, and dead wood. It will eat up to one hundred different species of plant, but prefers to focus on only ten percent of them.

Coquerel’s sifaka, as with other lemurs, have aided scientists in further understanding genetics within primates as well as color vision and matriarchal primate social structures. These lemurs have also increased tourism in Madagascar, due to their conservation status of Endangered. On PBS, the show Zaboomafoo featured a lemur of the same name that was based off Coquerel’s sifaka.

Although it is though that the populations of Coquerel’s sifaka are dispersed widely across its range, it only occurs in the two protected areas of the Bora Special Reserve and the Ankarafantsika National Park. It is threatened mainly by habitat loss due to deforestation and hunting, despite the taboo or fady that Coquerel’s sifaka cannot be eaten. The sifakas have come to consider humans a threat and will emit warning calls to alert the group of predators.

Common predators of Coquerel’s sifaka include constrictor snakes, hawks, and the cat-like fossa. Many non-native predators have been introduced into the Coquerel’s sifaka’s habitats and these include feral dogs, European and African cats, civets, and mongooses.

Image Caption: Coquerel’s Sifaka (Propithecus coquereli) in northern Madagascar. Credit: David Dennis/Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 2.0)

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