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Sunday, 21 June 2009

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Indri
- the largest lemur in existence

What strikes you most when you look at the creature featured here? Perhaps, its strong resemblance to a giant panda. Well, most are of the view that the indri which belongs to the Indriidae family (which includes sifakas and wooly lemurs), does resemble a panda in appearance even though it's only a lemur.

Would you believe that the indri, also known as babakoto (pronounced baba-koot) is the largest lemur in existence along with the Diademed Sifaka? Measuring 64-72cm from head to body and weighing upto 13kg, the indri which is found in the northern parts of Madagascar is a primate under threat today.

It is one of the most endangered species among the animals endemic to Madagascar, and has a high risk of becoming extinct.

It has the appearance of a teddy bear with its bare black face, framed by fuzzy ears, large greenish eyes and silky fur, which is mostly black with white patches along the neck, limbs and lower back.

The body fur colour varies among different populations with some indris having mostly black fur. It has a long neck, long arms and also long muscular legs which it uses to propel from one tree to another, as it's a tree dwelling creature.

It's known to be a vertical climber and leaper, holding its body upright when travelling through trees.

The indri is well known for its rather eeri, but beautiful song which carries for more than two kilometres through the jungle. Its distinctive songs which lasts for about 45 seconds to three minutes, are sung usually in a three phase pattern. Researchers say the roar sequence which is generally sung by all the members of the group, except the very young, lasts for about seven seconds.

The song proper is generally dominated by the adult pair in the group. The roar sequence is followed by a note sequence which lasts for another five seconds and the descending phrase sequence begins. In this part of the song, the wails start as a high note and progressively come to a lower pitch. It is common for two or more animals to coordinate the timing of the descending notes to form a duet.

It is said that the structure and duration of the songs could vary among and within the groups which comprise the adult couple and the offspring, including the maturing offspring. Indris are known to form long term partnerships, with new mates being sought only in the event of death of one partner.

One of the reasons for this beautiful animal's decline is its low birth rate. The female gives birth to a single young every two to three years, after a gestation period of approximately 60 days.

Born during May/June, the young are mostly black at birth. They get the white fur by about two or three months. The young usually travel about, clinging to the mother's belly until they are about four or five months.

Then they travel on the back of their mothers. By about eight months, they are independent enough to move about on their own, but until they are at least two years old, they are not fully independent of their mums, the primary care-givers. The males too assist in the upbringing, to some extent.

The indri is herbivorous, primarily folivorous, feeding on about 63 plant species in lowland and montane forests. It also feeds on fruits and seeds.

Males are known to consume more fruits. The indri has been observed to transfer the fruits they pick on to eat from the hand to the mouth, while the leaves are picked off the tree, directly with its mouth.

Even though it lives mostly on the tree canopy, it occasionally descends to the ground to eat soil. Within the group, the female in the leading pair tends to be dominant and has priority to the food reserves.

Active during the day, the group of indri settle down in a 'sleep tree' prior to dusk. When moving about, foraging for food, it prefers to negotiate gaps between the tree branches by leaping. It can leap between 10 to 30 cm.

The name indri is said to have been given to this animal following a misunderstanding that occurred when the natives of Madagascar pointed out the creature to a French naturalist named Pierre Sonnerat.

When the natives had used the local word meaning "there" to show the animal it had been assumed that the animal's name was that. So, it came to be known as indri, but in Madagascar it is also known by the names babakoto and ambalana.

There are many myths and legends about lemurs. Most legends establish the close relationship between lemurs and humans. Even though the legend of its origin varies, the lemur is treated as a sacred animal. Therefore it is revered and protected by the natives.

Many claim that the lemur has been seen sunbathing or sun-worshipping, going by the posture it adopts during this act. It has been observed at sunrise sitting, facing the sun on a branch with its back upright, legs crossed, hands low with palms upturned and resting on knees and eyes half closed.

This teddy-bear like creature which is revered in Madagascar is highly endangered today due to habitat loss.

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