I vaguely remember seeing Indris (Indri indri) as a child over a decade ago but this experience was something else. Walking with my guide Nirina after some early morning birdwatching and photography we started hearing the first group calling. It was unbelievable and the closer we got the more I was mesmerized. When we finally reached the group, it was the loudest animal call I had ever heard.
Posted by Nicolas Rakotopare Photography on Wednesday, January 28, 2015
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Information about the Indri:
Also known as Babakoto in Madagascar, their calls serve a range of purposes including group bonding and unity or as territorial calls. The day we saw this group, they were letting another nearby group of Indri know not to come too close to their territory. They were jumping from tree to tree in a seamless manner which made it look so natural and easy. It is the only lemur species that does not have a tail (a mere 3cm vestigial tail). Due to their size (it is the largest species of lemur towering up to 1m (60-80cm on average)) they do not need the help of a prehensile tail to move around in the canopy. Also, their legs are a third larger than their arms (see the images at the bottom of this article) and they can cover up to 10m in one jump.
The photos below were taken in the Analamazaotra Special Reserve where I spent my morning. I did not have a 4wd and therefore no access to the main section of the Mantandia National Park that was a few kilometres further up the road.
Later in the afternoon I visited a smaller patch of protected forest called VOIMMA which is run by the local villagers. I highly recommend visiting it, as you might be able to see species that you did not see in the morning.
I got a better, softer, light in this location but the Indris were not calling. They were about to fall asleep and the individual I photographed was acting as a sentinel to alert the rest of the group in case of danger. The rest of the group were out of my lens reach higher in the canopy. Sitting in the forest, photographing this individual was such a great experience. Even though there was not much behavior happening, the simple magic of the moment was enough to forget the insects and mosquitoes biting me.
Conservation Status of the Indri
Although it is a magical experience to see and photograph these individuals, I have to step back a bit and talk about the critical situation of lemurs (including the Indris). In a recent report by the IUCN, lemurs have been classified as one of the most endangered primate groups in the world. Ninety-one per cent of all lemur taxa (species and subspecies) are now classified as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The table below adapted from the IUCN report ‘Lemurs of Madagascar – A strategy for their conservation 2013-2016” illustrates the number of species listed and their current status.
Madagascar is, and has been, losing primary forests at an incredible rate. Forests are quintessential for the Malagasy wildlife. Additionally, due to their highly specialized diet (much of which is leaves and fruits of endemic trees) Indris cannot survive in captivity and this rules out any sort of breeding program that could safeguard them from disappearing forever. Being a taboo (“fady” in the Malagasy language) animal for the Malagasy people, the Indri is not being hunted by the locals which removes one element of human pressure on them but this will not be enough in the long run.
Madagascar is somewhat of a typical example in conservation biology where the interest of the wildlife and environment clashes with a very poor population and their needs. As the IUCN report outlines and suggests, the management actions for many species, if not all, require a joint effort between science and social work .