© CI/Photo by Russell A. Mittermeier
Madagascar's wildlife ambassadors
How much do you know about "the land of the lemurs"?

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Madagascar is home to all kinds of unique plants and animals — many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. But it is the lemur that is Madagascar's wildlife ambassador.

Latin for "ghost," lemurs are sometimes mistaken for marsupials but are actually primates — just like gorillas, chimpanzees, and even humans. Lemurs are among a primate classification called prosimians. Having evolved some 65 million years ago, prosimians are the oldest living primates in the world. They even predate monkeys and apes. Other prosimians include the lorises, tarsiers, and galagos all from parts of Asia and Africa.

LEARN MORE: Learn the difference between prosimians and anthropoids and explore other primate species.

Amazingly, of the 17 families of primates in the world, five of those are endemic to Madagascar. Protecting lemurs is a conservation priority for we stand to lose almost one third of the diversity of our own order.

Cuddly, Diverse, Intriguing

There are over 103 kinds of lemurs in Madagascar, from the Verreaux's sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi) to the adorable fat-tailed dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus medius).

These cuddly creatures are as diverse as they are intriguing. There are nocturnal lemurs that are only active at night and there are diurnal lemurs that spend their days eating, mating, and playing. Some, like the indri (Indri indri), are quite large while others are tiny like the Berthe's mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae) — the smallest primate in the world. While very different, one thing all lemurs have in common is their home: Madagascar.

However, the history of lemurs on the island is also proof that primate extinctions are very real. At least 15 species of lemur have already gone extinct, including Archaeindris, a large lemur that was heavier than an adult male gorilla. Sadly, the remaining lemur species are threatened by habitat loss from extreme deforestation. It is for this reason that Madagascar is considered the world's highest primate conservation priority.

It is important to understand the threats facing Madagascar and its creatures, but it is equally vital to celebrate the wealth of biodiversity that still exists there.

Learn more about lemurs and listen to their calls:

With stark opposing colors and a big bushy beard that stretches from ear to ear, the black-and-white ruffed lemur is one of the more threatened lemurs.
Sifakas' favorite position is clinging to tree trunks. But on the ground sifakas are equally captivating, bounding along in a comical sideways dance with arms flailing overhead for balance.
Long considered a harbinger of evil among Malagasy villagers, one look at the aye-aye and you will know why.
The ring-tailed lemur is the best-studied and most recognizable species of Malagasy lemur.
The Indri is the largest living lemur: measuring up to three feet in length with a weight of 20 pounds.
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