Scientific Name: Propithecus verreauxi coquereli
Viewers of the popular PBS kids show Zoboomafoo know that its star lemur, “Zoboo,” is a Coquerel’s sifaka.
Coquerel’s sifaka, a subspecies of Verreaux’s sifaka, is a large, long-legged lemur found in the dwindling forests of Madagascar and the nearby Comoro Islands. Its ability to jump more than 20 feet between trees gave rise to its nickname “leaping lemur.”
STATUS: The Coquerel’s sifaka is listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
HABITAT: Lemurs are found only in Madagascar, off the coast of Africa. Coquerel’s sifakas live in the remaining evergreen and deciduous forests, as well as some scrub and bush areas of officially protected but often violated regions of northwest Madagascar and offshore islands.
DIET: Coquerel’s sifakas eat mostly leaves, and also fruit, flowers, and bark. Their diet includes more than 100 plant species.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Sifakas are primates of the suborder Prosimii, with characteristics considered primitive (closer to the ancestral type) than more advanced monkeys and apes. Coquerel’s sifakas grow to a body length of 20 inches, with a furry tail of up to 23 inches. Females weigh up to 8 pounds, males a bit less. They have silky white fur with brown or maroon patches on chest, legs, and back; their large eyes stare out from black faces. Like most primates, they have grasping hands with fingernails, except for a grooming claw on their second toes.
Estrus, the female’s fertile period, is seasonal and lasts only about two days in the Madagascan summer, January through March. Births are usually single. The baby, born after about 5 months’ gestation, hangs on to the mother’s abdominal fur for a month, then rides hanging on to her back. Not much is known about sifakas in the wild, but in captivity, life spans of almost 20 years are reported.
Coquerel’s sifakas are best seen in the wild in daylight hours along the trails of Ampijoroa Forest as they sit with two or three others in the trees, grooming each other, or vertically clinging to tree trunks or branches. They might be sighted on the ground moving quickly in an agile, graceful, bouncing manner. The prolific and active group of Coquerel’s sifakas at the Los Angeles Zoo can be seen grooming, basking under their heat lamp, or leaping with amazing grace through their enclosure.
In sifaka society, ladies rule! Females are dominant, and will scent mark their territories with anogenital scent glands. Males also have scent glands in their throat areas.
This species of sifaka is named for two French 19th-century naturalists: Jules Verreaux, an explorer and taxidermist who was the first of his profession to mount animal exhibits in natural positions, and C. Coquerel, a scientist who lived in Madagascar in the mid-1800s.