Coquerel's Sifaka

Coquerel's Sifaka is a medium-sized lemur of the sifaka genus Propithecus. Like all lemurs, it is endemic to Madagascar.


Coquerel's Sifaka is a vertical clinger and leaper with long, powerful hind legs and an upright posture. It has a head-body length of 42-50 cm and a tail length of 50-60 cm. The total mature length (including tail) is approximately 93 to 110 cm. Adult body mass is typically around 4 kg. The dorsal pelage and tail are white, with maroon patches on the chest and portions of the limbs. The coat is generally dense. Its face is bare and black except for a distinctive patch of white fur along the bridge of the nose. Its naked ears are also black, and its eyes are yellow or orange.


This species occurs only at altitudes of less than 300 ft in the dry deciduous forests of northwestern Madagascar, including coastal forests. It primarily occurs to the north and east of the Betsiboka River, and the southerly portion of the range extends to Ambato-BoƩni.

Groups of this species have a home range area amounting to 4-9 hectares. Overall densities in the wild are observed in the range of 60 individuals per km².


Coquerel's Sifaka has an herbivorous diet that varies by season. In the wet season, it eats immature leaves, flowers, fruit, bark, and dead wood. In the dry season, it eats mature leaves and buds. It may browse nearly 100 different plant species, but the majority of its feeding time will be concentrated on about 10% of these.


Coquerel's Sifaka lives in matriarchal groups of about three to ten individuals. It is diurnal and primarily arboreal. Much is known about its behavior from observations both in the wild and in captivity.

Social Structure

Matriarchy is rare in the animal kingdom as a whole but common among lemurs. A matriarchal system is particularly pronounced in Coquerel's Sifaka. All adult and even most subadult females are dominant over males.

Females have preferential access to food and other resources. When a female is browsing a particular area or tree, a male must wait for her to finish before he moves there to feed himself. If he gets in the way of the female, she may lunge, smack at him, or bite him. The male then exhibits submissive behavior by rolling his tail between his legs, chattering softly, and baring his teeth in a grimace before quickly leaping out of her way.

When mating, Coquerel's Sifaka commonly practices polyandry. A female may choose to mate with only one male, but most often she will mate with several, from other visiting groups as well as from her own. Males compete for access to sexually receptive females. However, the winner of a fight will not necessarily be the one she selects to breed with. The criteria by which she chooses a mate are evidently more complex.

In some other animals, polyandrous mating is thought to raise the chances of successful fertilization, but this does not appear to be the case in Coquerel's Sifaka. Instead, polyandry is thought to be advantageous because when paternity is confused, the likelihood of male infanticide decreases.


Coquerel's Sifaka mates between January and March. Infants are born in June and July after a gestation period of about 162 days. An infant will cling to its mother's chest until about a month or so after birth, then transfer to her back. Infants are weaned and become fully independent by about six months of age. Adult size is reached in one year.


In the trees, Coquerel's Sifaka moves by vertical clinging and leaping. It maintains an upright posture when at rest or when propelling itself between branches or trunks. This style of arboreal locomotion is characteristic of most, if not all, lemurs.

Occasionally Coquerel's Sifaka will descend to the ground to cross open spaces. Its terrestrial locomotion is unique to its species. Like Verreaux's Sifaka, it moves in a series of bipedal hops with its arms thrown out to the sides for balance. However, whereas Verreaux's Sifaka bounds sideways and crosses its legs one in front of the other, the Coquerel's Sifaka bounds forward, like a kangaroo. It leans in the direction of its jump to achieve forward momentum.


Coquerel's Sifaka uses a variety of auditory, visual, and olfactory signals to communicate.

All sifakas are known for their characteristic "shih-fak" alarm call. The first syllable is a low growl that "bubbles" in the throat, and the second is a clicking sound like an amplified hiccup. The "shih-fak" call is used to warn fellow group members of a potential ground predator or to threaten enemies and intruders. Coquerel’s Sifaka is highly territorial.

Contact calls used when groups are traveling include soft grunts and growls. If a sifaka is separated from its group members, it may emit a long, loud wail to find them.

One visual signal which Coquerel’s Sifaka uses to communicate is a rapid backward jerking of the head. This is a threatening action which may accompany the "shih-fak" call.

Sifakas also rely heavily on scent for communication. Males typically scent-mark using a gland in their throats, which they will rub back and forth along branches. Females are more likely to scent-mark with anogenital glands. It is not entirely clear what information is conveyed in these scents, beyond the demarcation of territory.

Conservation status and threats

Though its populations are thought to be widely distributed, Coquerel's Sifaka is found in only two protected areas in Madagascar: the Ankarafantsika National Park and the Bora Special Reserve. It is an endangered species. The principal threats to its existence are deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and hunting pressure. In northwestern Madagascar, deforestation results from annual burning to create new pastureland for livestock. Trees are also cut for the production of charcoal.

Many local Malagasy traditions prohibit hunting of the Coquerel’s Sifaka. However, these protective taboos are breaking down with cultural erosion and immigration.

Even the protected areas in which the Coquerel’s Sifaka occurs offer it little protection. It is hunted even within Ankarafantsika, and the Bora Special Reserve has become seriously degraded.

Cultural references

The lemur upon whom Zoboomafoo (the eponymous PBS kids television program) is based is a coquerel's sifaka named Jovian currently captive at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina.



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