Lepilemur sahamalaza

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

​The Sahamalaza sportive lemur, also called the Sahamalaza Peninsula sportive lemur, is believed to be restricted to the Sahamalaza Peninsula in northwestern Madagascar and inhabits both primary and mature secondary forests. Unfortunately, this area has been subject to high levels of deforestation and only a handful of forest fragments remain inhabited by this species. These lemurs tend to inhabit home ranges that have many sleeping sites and feeding trees, as well as a high tree density and a good level of canopy cover.


The Sahamalaza sportive lemur was only recognized as a unique species in 2006, having been previously grouped with Gray’s sportive lemur, Lepilemur dorsalis.

Sahamalaza sportive lemur geographic range. Encircled in red. Map: IUCN, 2020

Size, Weight, and Lifespan

There is no obvious sexual dimorphism in this species; males and females are similar in size and weight. Both males and females have a head and body length of approximately 10.2 in (26 cm) with tails approximately 10.6 in (27 cm) in length. Both sexes weight around 15.4 lbs (7 kg).

Lifespan in the wild is not well known, but is probably between 8 and 15 years.


​These lemurs are relatively small-bodied with long, thick tails, large ears, and large, round eyes adapted to their nocturnal lifestyles. They have a thick red-brown pelage, although their faces tend to be more gray in color. They also have a dark stripe running down their back from their head. 

What Does It Mean?

Belonging to the same species.

Having a diet that consists of leaves.

Sexual dimorphism:
Distinct difference in size or appearance between the sexes of an animal in addition to difference between the reproductive organs themselves.

Visit the Glossary for more definitions

Photo credit: R. Hilgartner/Creative Commons

Sahamalaza sportive lemurs are primarily generalist folivores, meaning that their diet includes a large number of different tree species of which they primarily consume leaves. However, they can also consume other parts of the plant such as fruit, flowers, and bark, as well as small invertebrates. They have been recorded feeding on at least 42 different tree species.

Behavior and Lifestyle

Sahamalaza sportive lemurs are nocturnal; they rest during the day in tree holes or dense tangles of vegetation (known as tree tangles) and become active at night, although they also have long periods of rest during the night. They tend to rest at the entrance to the tree hollow, possibly to increase sun exposure, although this can make them vulnerable to predators such as birds of prey and fossas, as well as humans. They are sometimes active during the day and will groom themselves or move around, but they don’t forage or leave their sleeping site during the day. When they are active at night they only move relatively short distances when foraging.

Fun Facts

During the day, Sahamalaza sportive lemurs rest in tree holes or in thick tangles of branches.

They are one of the most solitary species of primates, rarely interacting with conspecifics.

Daily Life and Group Dynamics

Sahamalaza sportive lemurs appear to have a much lower social complexity than some other species of lemurs, such as ring-tailed lemurs. They are often solitary and only mothers and infants have been seen in close contact for extended periods. They have small territories of around 0.002 sq miles (0.4 ha), although home ranges of different individuals can overlap. However, even when they are relatively close to other members of their own species, they usually have little interaction with one another. On the occasions that they do interact, positive interactions may begin with each lemur licking the other’s face. Researchers don’t yet know the extent of their social organization, but this species is certainly less socially complex than many other primate species.


Sahamalaza sportive lemurs have a repertoire of at least six distinct loud call types, including “chuckles” and “barks,” that are similar to the calls of other sportive lemur species. These calls are thought to have functions related to mate advertisement, offspring care, and territorial defense. They are also able to recognize the predator alarm calls of other species and react appropriately. Similar species use communal latrines for olfactory communications, but it is as yet unclear if Sahamalaza sportive lemurs also engage in this form of communication.

Reproduction and Family

The reproductive organization of this species is still unclear. It is possible that one male may defend territory occupied by a number of females, but knowledge of reproductive behavior is still lacking. Females give birth to a single infant and younger siblings may sometimes accompany a mother and infant. These infants probably stay with their mother for approximately one year before dispersing.

Photo credit: Ucucha/Creative Commons
​Ecological Role

​Little is known about the ecological role of these lemurs. However, they primarily eat leaves rather than fruits, so their role in seed dispersal is likely to be fairly limited.

Conservation Status and Threats

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Sahamalaza sportive lemur as Critically Endangered (IUCN, 2020); they appear on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Approximately 80% of the population are thought to have been lost since 2000, with this pattern expected to continue over the next two decades. This population loss is due to habitat loss and degradation, as well as hunting by humans. Their current geographic range is severely degraded and fragmented, and deforestation continues despite official protection. 

​Conservation Efforts

This species is listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix I and the Sahamalaza Peninsula is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Conservation organizations and local communities are carrying out a community-based natural resource management program to ensure better protection of the few remaining forest fragments. However, deforestation and hunting continue due to a lack of law enforcement, and further efforts are needed to ensure the protection of these forests and the Sahamalaza sportive lemur.

  • ​​Seiler, M., Holderied, M., & Schwitzer, C. (2015). Home range size and social organization of the Sahamalaza sportive lemur, Lepilemur sahamalazensis. Primate Conservation2015(29), 55-66.
  • Seiler, M., Holderied, M., & Schwitzer, C. (2013). Effects of habitat degradation on sleeping site choice and use in Sahamalaza sportive lemurs (Lepilemur sahamalazensis). International Journal of Primatology34(2), 260-280.
  • Seiler, M., Schwitzer, C., & Holderied, M. (2013). Anti-predator behaviour of Sahamalaza sportive lemurs, Lepilemur sahamalazensis, at diurnal sleeping sites. Contributions to Zoology82(3), 131-S1.
  • Seiler, M., Schwitzer, C., & Holderied, M. (2015). Call repertoire of the Sahamalaza sportive lemur, Lepilemur sahamalazensis. International Journal of Primatology36(3), 647-665.
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Written by Jennifer Botting, PhD, October 2020