Lemurs and Mangroves: An Unforgettable Observation

Mangroves in Madagascar are estimated to occupy around 2800km squared, representing around 2% of global mangroves (Donati et al., 2019). Mangroves as mentioned in a previous blog post, are an extremely important ecosystem for both humans and a variety of animal species inhabiting in and around them, providing shelter and food resources.

Primates in Mangroves

On various continents mangroves have been found to provide key resources, including food and shelter, for a variety of primate species, including Capuchin’s in the Amazonian Mangroves of South America, Zanzibar red colobus’ from Unguja off the coast of East Africa and Bornean orangutan’s from Borneo southeast Asia (Nowak, 2013). Research into the use of such habitats by primates still remains early in its development, however one thought shared by many as to the reason behind the use of such habitats by many primate species is through their use as refuges due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Another key group of primates reported within such habitats are the lemurs of Madagascar. Boasting 100% endemicity, and an estimated 95% of all species facing extinction, the lemurs of Madagascar are interesting group of primates.

Lemurs in Mangroves

Although lemurs from 4/5 families have been noted by a variety of researchers within mangrove habitats, there is still a large gap in our understanding surrounding how the species use these habitats and the general ecology of the species found within them.

Due to the lack and detailed observations of lemurs within mangrove habitats, any observations that shine light onto how species use these habitats are thought to be important and provide key steps towards the future conservation efforts of such species.

Sifaka’s, Boats and Mangroves

Lets take a trip back to the summer of 2018 and to the dry lowland community managed forest of Mariarano, northwest Madagascar. Me and a group of others, through Operation Wallacea, were collecting behaviour and habitat use data on the Endangered Coquerel’s sifaka (Propithecus coquereli). There had been word passing through the camps that a few sifaka had been sighted in the mangroves by both students and staff conducting bird point counts and crocodile surveys by boat. We decided to take a trip out to the mangroves and see for ourselves. 6 of us plus the captain and his son, and another 2 ornithologists (birders), fitted into this small petrol engine boat and off we went to find us some sifaka. As luck would have it during the afternoon boat ride we came across 3 groups of sifaka! So we decided to head out again the next morning, again another 3 groups were located, in slightly different places, but close enough that 2 groups could of been the same ones from the day before. Nevertheless, such sightings were incredible and our trusted supervisor, Carolyn Thompson, knew that this was something special, particularly due to the time of day we saw them, indicating potential sleeping sites, and the fact that one group were found to be feeding(!) on the mangroves, something that hadn’t been observed in detail before.

Our group nicknamed the Sifaka Squad out on the boat enjoying the sun, breeze and sifaka (Photo Credit: Coral Chell)
Coquerel’s sifaka high in a mangrove tree (Photo Credit: Coral Chell)

Luckily as part of my research i was looking into the tree species that the sifaka were found in, me not being a trained botanist meant i needed support in this. In comes the awesome Sariaka, a malagasy botanist and her guide, who managed to, via my many pictures, identify the trees the sifakas were found in, to species level. With this invaluable data, along with small behavioural observations, we had something special that hadn’t been documented in the literature before. So with the push and (huge) support from our supervisor Caz we set to publish this data.

International Journal of Primatology

The final product of 2 years work!

Then 2 years later here we are, a 1000 words in form of a short communication in the International Journal of Primatology, documenting our observations of sifaka’s feeding in the mangroves of northwest Madagascar. This isn’t much but to me this is a huge step forward in my career, giving me a foot in the academia door and providing me with the invaluable experience of writing a publication and the processes behind it, including the dreaded review process.

This however isn’t just a huge step for me, this is also an important step towards us as primate conservationists to have a better understanding of the ecology of lemur species found within mangroves and the role these habitats play for endangered species like this. Overall, we still don’t know 100% why the sifaka in this area are found within the mangroves, and we may never know, however our observations do support the current hypotheses that they use mangrove habitats for feeding, sleeping sites and potentially as refuge due to increasing human encroachment in the surround areas. Still as ever more detailed research is needed into this, including long term behavioural and population density studies. But the observations made here open up this topic and give us a slightly better understanding of a species that is so close to extinction.

If anyone would like a copy of the paper, or would just like talk more about lemurs and sifaka let me know. In the mean time you can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Till next time!

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