Propithecus coquereli

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

The Coquerel’s sifaka (pronounced “shuh–fokk”), also known as the crowned sifaka, can be found in the forested regions of northwestern Madagascar. This lemur’s range includes areas north and east of the Betsiboka River, extending southeast to Maevatanana along the river’s eastern side. To the west, their territory reaches the coastal forest of Mariarano, north of Mahajanga. The northernmost part of their range is near Bealanana, and the eastern boundary is near Antetemasy, just west of Befandriana Nord. These geographic zones reflect the Coquerel’s sifaka’s preferred habitat and climate: tropical-dry, lowland forests with mixed-deciduous trees, as well as coastal mangroves, that receive around 59-118 inches (150-300 centimeters) of rainfall annually (typically during the months of October-June). Their extent of occurrence (EOO) is around 10,680 square miles (27,662 square kilometers). The EOO is a parameter that measures the spatial spread of the area that they currently occupy. This parameter measured the degree to which risks from threatening factors are spread spatially across their geographical distribution. It is not intended to be an estimate of the amount of occupied or potential habitat or a general measure of the taxon’s range. Though they have been observed on ground level, these climbing lemurs prefer the canopy.

Interestingly enough, Madagascar is said to have been an island for at least 120 million years, but animals didn’t start populating the area until around 65 million years ago. Aside from Australia, Madagascar has the most unique species of animals on Earth. On top of the over 70 different kinds of lemurs its homes, 90% of Madagascar’s other mammals, amphibians, and reptiles are unique to the island…so how did the Coquerel’s sifaka and all the other animals get there? This has been a heavily debated subject for decades, with more recent research suggesting that the “rafting” theory is the most plausible explanation. Researchers from Purdue University and the University of Hong Kong launched a computer simulation that determined the ocean currents 20-60 million years ago (when animals arrived on Madagascar) would allow for a quick enough rafting trip from nearby bodies of land that animals could get to the island without dying of thirst. Super interesting!


The Coquerel sifaka was originally considered a subspecies of the Verreaux’s sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi) but has been recognized with full species status for over 20 years.

Coquerel's sifaka range, IUCN 2023

Size, Weight, and Lifespan

At birth, the Coquerel’s sifaka weighs around 3-4 ounces (85-113 grams). An adult ranges from around 8.2-9.5 pounds (3.7 to 4.3 kilograms) with a body length of 16-20 inches (42.5–50 centimeters) and a tail length of 20-24 inches (50–60 centimeters).

These lemurs can live to be around 30 years old in captivity, with the oldest recorded Coquerel’s sifaka living to be 31 years old at the Duke Lemur Center. However, in the wild, their life span is typically reduced to around 18-20 years due to various environmental factors like predators, poachers, and deforestation.


Their black face (with a white shaded nose bridge) and large, greenish-yellow eyes are encompassed by a circle of white fur, creating the rather striking look of the Coquerel’s sifaka. Other notable features include their black ears that stick out in two soft semi-circles on either end of their head, as well as their deep auburn-colored chest, thighs, forearms, and shoulders, which contrasts with the rest of their body, which are covered in white fur. The claw on their second toe is particularly pointed, compared to the rounded edges of the rest of their finger- and toenails, and is used for grooming. They also use their toothcomb, a set of smaller teeth in the front of their lower jaw, for grooming (as well as peeling fruit!). 

Due to their particularly short arms, walking on all four limbs is rather difficult for this species; they are much better suited for leaping vertically from tree to tree. Their unique build makes them excellent climbers: the large gap between their thumbs and other fingers makes it easier for them to hold onto thick tree trunks as they use their especially long and powerful legs to soar up to 35 feet (10.5 meters) in one leap. When they do find themselves on the ground, the Coquerel’s sifaka will often “hop” on their back legs with their arms stretched towards the sky. How cute!


Before getting to the day’s foraging, Coquerel’s sifakas enjoy a slow morning filled with lots of sun basking. After this, small groups will take their time as they scope the trees in search of leaves, flowers, fruit, bark, nectar, buds, and dead wood. They can travel up to a mile in this pursuit, generally wrapping up before sunset. When their usual food preferences become less abundant during the dry season from July to September, they rely on insects and more mature foliage. 

Coquerel’s sifakas have gastrointestinal systems that are specifically designed to optimize nutrient extraction from leaves and seasonal fruits. The process, utilizing a long gut tract that is 15x their body length, takes around 24-36 hours from consumption to excretion.

Behavior and Lifestyle

Coquerel’s sifakas typically live in matriarchal social groups of 3-10 individuals, meaning that females have priority when it comes to food access, picking a mate, and choosing a foraging location. They are a primarily arboreal species, though they will sometimes descend to the forest floor to pick up fallen food or to travel when branches become too sparse for climbing. These lemurs typically won’t travel distances longer than 160 feet (50 meters) without taking a break, though their lengths of travel are greater during the wet season compared to the dry (perhaps due to the more abundant food supply). A majority of their daily lives is spent foraging, all of which is primarily done in the morning and afternoon time, or resting/sunbathing, with grooming and play being a valuable tool in social dynamics, hierarchies, and relations.

Fun Facts

Sifakas are named after one of their warning calls that sounds like the phonetic pronunciation of their name: “shuh-fokk!”

Coquerel’s sifakas love to play! A common game they’ve been observed playing is having multiple sifakas hang from a branch (or other horizontal support) by their arms or legs and trying to knock off their “opponent!”

Daily Life and Group Dynamics

Allogrooming, where one individual grooms another, is common among Coquerel’s sifaka groups. This form of grooming is done during periods of rest and typically isn’t reciprocated, with a study showing that only about 30% of it is mutually executed. Groomers will focus on the arms, head, face, back, and shoulders of the other sifaka, using their hands, as well as their toothcomb to lick and comb hair.

Though uncommon, these animals have been observed to briefly touch noses as a form of social greeting. Another cute tidbit: on especially cold nights, Coquerel’s sifakas can be found lining up, single-file, on a branch and huddling with the lemur in front of them to stay warm. 

Aggression isn’t too common outside of mating season, but it definitely occurs. Females are generally the dominant gender over males, so it isn’t uncommon for females to lunge, bite (generally on the neck scruff or tail), or smack a defiant male, usually followed by a hacking cough-like vocalization. Males can show submission through various postures and behaviors, including cowering, tucking the tail between the legs, baring their teeth, soft vocal calls, and fleeing out of the way of a female.


As mentioned in the “Fun Facts” section, these species of lemurs are named after the “shuh-fokk” sound they often make as a warning call. Other forms of vocal communication include soft grunts, echoing wails, explosive hissing, and synchronized group calls. Many of their loud, nasal warning calls are followed by rapid head-jerking motions. If one of the lemurs in a group notices an overhead disturbance or intruder, they will emit an open-mouthed, loud aerial roar. One of the most common oral sounds of the Coquerel’s sifakas is a low-frequency hum.

This species also communicates olfactorily, meaning they use scents to relay information. This form of communication typically revolves around territory marking, with the male scent being marked with a gland in their gular sac (one of the few instances of sexual dimorphisms in the species) and the female’s scent being excreted with their anogenital glands.

Reproduction and Family

Mating season for the Coquerel’s sifaka runs from November to February, with gestational periods lasting around 5 months. Females typically give birth to one baby, who will cling to their bellies for the first three weeks of their life, before transitioning to riding on their mother’s back. Breast milk is the sole form of food for infants until they reach 2 months, at which point they can start eating some of the foraged food. As mentioned before, these sifakas function as a matriarchy, and the females often practice polyandry, meaning they mate with multiple different males. The various male partners will then help raise the offspring, thinking of themselves as the true father, giving the baby a higher chance of survival. Females tend to stay in their natal group, while males are usually forced to leave once sexually active; it is rare for a male to stay in one group for longer than 8 years. In both males and females, sexual maturity is reached at around 2-3.5 years old. 

Ecological Role

Since lemurs were one of the first vertebrates to land on Madagascar 65 million years ago, the modern Coquerel’s sifaka is pivotal to the island’s ecosystem. As a majority of the birds on Madagascar only eat insects, sifakas have proven to be extremely valuable seed dispersers. As a matter of fact, a study from Rice University found that seeds that have been eaten and passed by a lemur have a 300% higher chance of sprouting compared to undisturbed seeds. They also serve as a form of food for various predators like fossas, feral dogs, and large birds of prey. 

Conservation Status and Threats

The Coquerel’s sifaka is classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2018), appearing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their population has declined nearly 80% in the past 40 years, and the current population of 200,000 Coqurel’s sifaka is still dwindling. 

Like most primates, hunting and habitat destruction are the biggest threat to the Coquerel’s sifaka. Slash-and-burn agriculture, other minimally controlled annual forest burnings to create new land for livestock and farming, and charcoal enterprises are primary causes of forest loss. Forest disturbances that result in forest fragmentation are especially harmful to species like the Coquerel’s sifaka which prefer to spend as much time in the forest interior as possible.

Though hunting didn’t use to be a threat, as it was considered taboo to hunt Coquerel’s sifakas, this sentiment has changed due to immigration and poverty. These species of lemurs are now considered one of the most hunted and consumed vertebrates in Ankarafantsika National Park. 

Conservation Efforts

The Coquerel’s sifaka is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international agreement between governments whose goal is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Issues of poverty within Madagascar have pushed conservation efforts down, especially when considering the need to burn down portions of the forest for farmland and economic gain. For this reason, it is important to note that until the people of Madagascar can prosper, it will be hard for the wildlife to prosper as well. For this reason, the Wildlife Conservation Society collaborates with local communities to improve agricultural methods, develop businesses focused on sustainable resources, and modernize the local economies.

Some conservation efforts have been made, including making Ankarafantsika National Park, Anjiamangirana Protected Area, and Anjajavy Reserve protected zones. Unfortunately, habitat loss and hunting are still common in Ankarafantsika and Anjiamangirana. 

The American Journal of Primatology published a study that recommends community-based conservation actions geared towards preserving forest connectivity, enacting alternative methods of charcoal production, logging, and grass fires, minimizing poaching, and collaborating with local authorities and researchers to ensure long-term monitoring of the population.


Written by Hannah Broadland, May 2024