Common names are not officially defined. They are based on everyday conversational language and may differ by country, region, profession, community, or other factors. As a result, it is not unusual for a species to have more than one common name.

Scientific names are in Latin and they are written in italics. They are standardized and for everyone, no matter what language you may speak. They are bound by a formal naming system, called binominal nomenclature, that has strict rules. Scientific names prevent misidentification. Those names only change if a species, or its genus, is officially redesignated by experts.

Ring-tailed lemurs are found in the dry forests, spiny bush, montane forest, mangroves, rocky outcrops, and one rainforest in southern and southwestern Madagascar, as well as in one humid forest in southeastern Madagascar.

  • Ring-tailed lemurs are named for their long ringed tails
  • They live in large troops of up to 30 individuals
  • Males compete in “stink wars” for mating rights
  • During peaceful times, they bathe in the sun; a favorite pastime
  • Lemur, the genus name, means “ghost” in Latin. This name was chosen because of the sound of their calls. Madagascar’s first explorers heard these howling calls as they made their way through the forests and believed them to be the voices of haunting spirits.
  This means that there is a high risk that they could become extinct in the wild.

Despite their adaptability, ring-tailed lemurs are seriously affected by the ongoing deforestation in Madagascar. Much of this is resulting from increased sapphire mining activity, which requires clearing vast areas of land.

The reduction of forested areas has confined them to isolated patches, something known as “habitat fragmentation”. Being cut off from resources and fellow lemur groups significantly contributes to their status as an endangered species.

Local humans are unsustainably hunting these lemurs for bushmeat. This is partly a result of Madagascar’s extreme poverty since many people cannot afford to buy their own food or raise their own livestock. One study found that in households that hunted lemurs, all of the children were malnourished. Conservationists say that protecting lemurs from hunting will require providing poor Malagasy families with the resources they need to keep children healthy and well-fed.

However, many of Madagascar’s wealthier people also eat lemur meat. They even prefer, favoring the wild-caught protein as more “natural”. Researchers have discovered that there is a large supply chain that illegally transports the meat of ring-tailed lemurs and other endangered species into cities, where it is then sold in restaurants, stores, and open-air markets.

Many people trap these lemurs to illegally sell them as pets. Ring-tailed lemurs have always been highly sought out for their extraordinary appearance, but recent appearances in social media videos and popular movies has driven up demand. After the release of the animated film “Madagascar”, which features singing and dancing ring-tailed lemurs, many more people wanted to own these creatures as exotic pets. This problem shows how important it is to love wildlife responsibly, by letting them continue to be wild.

There are currently only 8 known populations that contain more than 100 individuals. Other populations are smaller. Mature adults are particularly declining within the ring-tailed lemur’s population, reducing the number of individuals capable of reproducing. In 2016, scientists estimated that the population would drop by more than 50% within just three generations (each generation spanning 12 years).

Scientists predict that the ring-tailed lemur species will soon collapse entirely. This forecast is extremely concerning for Madagascar’s wildlife as a whole because conservationists have long considered them to be far more stable than other species who are less adaptable to different habitats and conditions. Increased conservation efforts are urgently needed to preserve the remaining habitats and ensure the survival of this iconic Malagasy primate, as well as fellow members of its ecosystem.

  1. Although they may look like house cats, lemurs are primates. Intelligent and strong-willed, they are outfitted with formidable teeth that cause a good deal of damage.
  2. Ring-tailed lemurs are LOUD!
  3. To become pets, ring-tailed lemur babies are stolen from their mothers. As a result, they do not develop normally emotionally.
  4. Primates are never domesticated. They always remain wild. 
  5. Caged primates are very unhappy and frustrated. They are likely to resist confinement. They are quick and cause damaging bites and scratches.
  6. In their natural habitat, ring-tailed lemurs live in large social groups. It is cruel to isolate them as pets.
  7. Many locations have strict regulations that prohibit trading in or keeping primates and endangered species are pets.
  8. Ring-tailed lemurs belong with other lemurs in Madagascar. They and their habitats must be protected, not exploited.

Visit the RING-TAILED LEMUR Primate Species Profile

 Copyright © New England Primate Conservancy 2019. You may freely use and share these learning activities for educational purposes. 
For questions or comments, e-mail us at [email protected].