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Blue-Eyed Black Lemur

Eulemur flavifrons

Blue-eyed black lemurs are among the most threatened primates in the world. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently elevated the status of E. flavifrons to critically endangered and added them to the Top 25 Most Endangered Primates list.

There are less than ten female blue-eyed black lemurs of breeding age in North America. In order to support the genetic diversity of the population at the Duke Lemur Center, a breeding pair of blue-eyed black lemurs recently made the 9,000 mile journey from Parc Ivoloina, a nonprofit nature center in eastern Madagascar. 

Shortly after their arrival, the pair produced their first infant, only the 15th infant in Duke Lemur Center history to be delivered by cesarean section. 

About Blue-eyed Black Lemurs
Quick Facts

Adult size: 4 - 4.2 lbs (1.8 - 1.9 kg)

Social structure: male - female pair with offspring

Habitat: humid deciduous forest in Northwestern Madagascar

Diet: fruit, leaves, seeds, nectar, flowers, mushrooms, millipedes/other insects

Sexual maturity: 2 years

Mating: highly seasonal, infants are born in September and October in Madagascar and March and April in North Carolina

Gestation: 120 days

Number of young: 1-2 infants per year

IUCN Status: critically endangered 

DLC Naming theme: blue-eyed celebrities 

Malagasy names: Akomba, Akomba sy Manga Maso

Size and Appearance

A medium-sized lemur weighing around 5 pounds (2.4 kg), blue-eyed black lemurs have long tails which are often carried high in the air as the animals move. These lemurs generally move in a horizontal position and will walk or run quadrupedally through the trees and on the ground, except when leaping from tree to tree.

This species is one of the most distinctively sexually dichromatic of all the lemurs which means the male and females have different colorations. Males are completely black, while females are reddish-brown to orange.

Diet

Blue-eyed black lemurs eat ripe fruit, leaves, flowers, and occasionally insects. Groups of blue-eyed black lemurs will eat primarily fruit during the rainy season when it is readily abundant. During the dry season when fruit becomes scarce, blue-eyed black lemurs turn to leaves, flowers, nectar, and seeds.

In poor or disturbed habitats, blue-eyed black lemurs might be found on the ground, foraging through the leaf litter for fallen fruit or fungi. In these areas, they have also been known to forage in coffee, timber, and cashew plantations. 

Reproduction

Blue-eyed black lemurs, like all diurnal lemurs, are seasonal breeders. In Madagascar, the breeding season ranges from April to June. In northern hemisphere locations, such as the DLC, most breeding occurs in November and December with births in March and April. 

In the wild, female blue-eyed black lemurs give birth to one or two offspring in the fall, after a gestation period of approximately 126 days. It is possible for two females in the same group to become pregnant during the same breeding season.

Although dichromatic as adults, both male and female blue-eyed black lemurs are born with the same orange-brown coloration. Males turn black as they age over the first 4-8 weeks.

Behavior

Blue-eyed black lemurs have not been studied extensively in the wild, so little is known about their behavior outside of human care. Most of this information was recorded for black lemurs, but it is assumed that it will also be correct for blue-eyed lemurs since the two species are very closely related.

Blue-eyed black lemurs live in fairly large groups between 7 and 10 individuals which may contain more than one breeding animal of each sex.

Like other prosimians, females are dominant over males in their social groups, which gives them preferential access to food and the choice of whom to mate with.

Blue-eyed black lemurs use olfaction as a primary method of communication. The most common method of scent marking for both males and females is done by way of rubbing the anogenital region over a suitable substrate. In addition, males have two scent-marking techniques not seen in females. The first is palm/wrist marking where the male will rub his palm and wrist vigorously back and forth on a branch or other surface for a few seconds or even a few minutes. The other is head rubbing, where the head is lowered and then the surface to be marked is rubbed with one or two head swipes.

Habitat and Conservation

Blue-eyed black lemurs are found south of the Sambirano region in northwest Madagascar. This region is considered a transition area between the rain forests of the east coast and the dry deciduous forests of the west coast.

Blue-eyed black lemurs are severely threatened by hunting, trapping, and forest destruction (especially from slash and burn agriculture) across their entire range, which is among the smallest ranges of any lemur species. The species is protected in only a tiny area of Madagascar, Sahamalaza National Park. Sadly, because Sahamalaza is susceptible to wildfires and other pressures on the forest, the species is at risk even within the park. These factors – a narrow geographic range, a single park protecting their natural environment, hunting, and their habitat under pressure – have resulted in blue-eyed black lemurs’ critically endangered conservation status. 

The species is consistently placed in the top ten of the most endangered varieties of lemurs, and in 2008, it was included on the list of the world's 25 Most Endangered Primates, drawn up every two years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Primate Specialist Group, the International Primatological Society, and Conservation International. 

In 2015, it was estimated that the blue-eyed black lemur could go extinct in the wild in as little as 11 years due to habitat loss, forest fragmentation, and hunting pressures (Volameno et al.). It is thought that there may be fewer than 1,000 individuals of this species left in the wild.

Efforts to breed this subspecies in human care began in the mid-1990s with the importation of four wild-caught animals to the Duke Lemur Center. There is a Species Survival Plan in place for this lemur and institutions holding this species are working together cooperatively to maintain genetic diversity. 

See also "Two Critically Endangered Blue-Eyed Black Lemurs Born at Duke Lemur Center." 

Video

Having access to Natural Habitat Enclosures helps lemur moms teach their infants how to be good lemurs! Here, month-old McKinnon hangs on tight as mom, Wiig, explores the forest. 

Due to health and spatial constraints, not all lemurs will free range when they are infants. Here Leigh and Murphy, two-year-old blue-eyed black lemurs, figure out what to make of their new environment.

How You Can Help

Send a lemur a present: You can send special treats to the DLC’s lemurs, as well as raw materials for us to construct special enrichment activities to keep them happy and healthy. Simply visit our amazon.com wishlist!

Adopt a blue-eyed black lemur: Want to learn more about this species AND help support their care, not only here but also in Madagascar? Consider symbolically adopting Presley, a male blue-eyed black lemur, through the DLC’s Adopt a Lemur program! Adoption packages start at just $50.

Visit the Duke Lemur Center: The DLC is only partially funded by Duke, so we rely heavily on revenue from tours to help pay for lemur care and housing as well as our conservation work in Madagascar. So, something as simple and fun as visiting the Lemur Center can help us help the lemurs!

Engage in conservation locally: Though it doesn't directly affect lemurs, the DLC also promotes local conservation. We encourage visitors to support local ecosystems and protect local habitats, similar to the way we're helping the local people in Madagascar preserve lemurs' natural habitat. A fun way to do this is to plant a local pollinators garden at your home or school. The DLC itself is incorporating a Monarch Waystation into its landscaping for the summer tour path in 2017. You can also stop using dangerous chemicals on your lawn, which might end up in lakes and streams and harm fish, frogs, and other animals.