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OBSERVING CLAIRE'S MOUSE LEMURS

News item submitted by Gap Year Blog
News item dated 7 Dec 2017

An observational study was conducted earlier this year by our Wildlife Conservation Intern, Tom Lewis, who wanted to gather more information about this elusive lemur. 

Mouse lemurs are the smallest primates worldwide and their size and nocturnal lifestyle makes it harder to study them. They hide during the day in tree holes and in dense vegetation in the canopy during the day, which makes them difficult to find. The species number of this genus increased recently to 18 when field studies raised many subspecies to species status, which was backed up with genetic analyses.

There is only one species of mouse lemur, the Nosy Be or Claire’s Mouse lemur, that is found in Nosy Be. There is very little known of this species with no publications since 2010 and they are classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Observations of the Claire’s mouse lemur were carried out by our intern around the beginning (18:00) and the end (04:00) of activity hours for mouse lemurs for an estimated total of 6 hours over 11 surveys. The lemurs were observed for either a period of one hour or until they went out of sight. The number of animals seen and their behaviour was documented. The study was carried out in the surrounding plantations of heavily degraded forest near the village of Ambalahonko where our camp is based.   

During these observations, no more than 5 individual Claire’s Mouse lemurs were observed at the same time in the same area, and it is believed that those 5 were not associating with each other. Three individuals were seen to be travelling together. The mouse lemurs were unreactive to the other two species of lemurs, even when observed foraging on the same tree; however they reacted to anthropogenic noises, voices and white light with freezing or fleeing. Individuals were often observed foraging on Kapok trees and the flowers of banana trees. They were observed feeding on nectar, tree sap, and seed pods. Insectivorous feeding did not occur. The observer tried to follow individuals at dawn to find out their resting places but was unsuccessful as these animals are very fast and agile.

Previously, during the dry season, Mouse lemurs were onlyever seen in these degraded plantation areas of forest. Very recently, however, two individuals were spotted in secondary habitat at a forest edge near Ampasipohy. Some species of Mouse lemurs enter seasonal and daily torpor (a state of inactivity) during the Austral (southern hemisphere) winter, which would explain the lack of sightings. As previously mentioned, this species is gravely understudied and their conservation status is unclear, so any kind of new information is essential. In the future, we are planning on carrying out night time behaviour studies to gather more information.

By Orsi Szabo - Madagascar Research Officer

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