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Zoo on the Hill

Red ruffed lemur

Scientific name: Varecia rubra
Family: Lemuridae
Order: Primates
Class: Mammalia
Range: Masoala Peninsula of northeastern Madagascar
Habitat: Subtropical and Tropical Rainforest Lifespan: 15-20 years in the wild; over 30 years in captivity

What do they look like?
Red ruffed lemurs are one of two species of ruffed lemurs, separated from each other by the Antainambalana River in eastern Madagascar. Nearly identical to each other aside from coloration, red ruffed and black-and-white ruffed lemurs are named for the tufts of hair lining their ears and faces. Red ruffed lemurs have red coats with black faces, hands, feet, and tails. They often have patches of white on the back of the neck and the base of the tail. They have large, forward-facing eyes and fox-like muzzles. Ruffed lemurs are the largest of the lemur species, typically weighing eight to 12 pounds. Their body length is approximately 20 to 22 inches, while their tails are around 24 inches long.

How do they behave?
Red ruffed lemurs live in small family groups of up to eight individuals. They are a crepuscular (mainly active at dawn and dusk), arboreal (tree dwelling) species. Females are the dominant sex in the lemur hierarchy, a system unique to this suborder of prosimians. Females will defend their territory, choose their own mate, and have first access to foraging opportunities. Ruffed lemurs communicate through loud vocalizations which can be heard up to a mile away. The most common calls are alarm calls (which are even specific to different types of predators) and locator calls (which are used to locate members of the troop).

What’s do they eat?
Red ruffed lemurs are frugivores (feeding primarily on fruit) although they also consume leaves, flowers and nectar. Ruffed lemurs play an important ecological role in Madagascar. They cannot digest the seeds of the fruit they consume; therefore, the seeds are dispersed in their droppings, helping to replant vegetation throughout the region. At Happy Hollow, they eat specialized leaf-eater chow, fruits, and vegetables.

How are they born?
Bonded pairs are believed to be monogamous among this species. Mating takes place from May to July, during the cooler, drier months in Madagascar. Toward the end of the gestation period, which lasts approximately 102 days, the female will build a nest for her young. Twins and triplets are most common; however, litters of six have been noted in captivity. Newborns are born fully furred with open eyes, though they do not have the strength yet to hold on to their mothers for travel. They will live in the nest for up to two weeks, at which time the mother will begin to carry them and place them in nearby trees while she forages.

The red ruffed lemur conservation status is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature . One of the main threats to these lemurs is habitat loss and human predation. In 2012 the Duke Lemur Center adopted the SAVA (Sambava-Andapa-Vohemar-Antalaha) Conservation Madagascar initiative, a program designed to improve the conservation status of lemurs in Madagascar. SAVA Conservation Madagascar focuses on community-based conservation, research, and habitat preservation. If you would like to help red ruffed lemurs you can start by purchasing coffee that is shade-grown and produce that is grown locally. These products do not require the destruction of rainforest land to grow crops, and they will help out your local economy.