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Ruffed lemur


CITES: Appendix I (What is CITES?)
IUCN Red List: V. variegata: CR; V. rubra: EN (What is Red List?)
Key: CR = Critically endangered, EN = Endangered
(Click on species name to see IUCN Red List entry, including detailed status assessment information.)

Varecia variegata
Varecia variegata
Photo: Pavel Vlcek


Threat: Human-Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation

As with other primates, habitat loss through deforestation is a significant threat to the ruffed lemur. In fact, lemurs are in more grave danger of becoming extinct than most other primates and are most threatened by habitat destruction and hunting (Ganzhorn et al. 1996/1997). Deforestation on Madagascar is undertaken to support subsistence agriculture, cash crops and provide firewood and is especially damaging in river valleys and on the coast (Simons & Lindsay 1987). On the Masoala peninsula, the only habitat of V. rubra, slash and burn agriculture (tavy) is practiced seasonally between October and December and is expanding (Vasey 1996). Also, in some cases, cattle allowed to free-range over former agricultural clearings prevent the re-growth of forest (Evans et al. 1993-1994). However, ruffed lemurs are present in and can survive in very disturbed habitats, albeit probably at far lower densities that in natural habitats (Simons & Lindsay 1987).

Selective logging for certain sizes and species of trees affects ruffed lemurs differently than other lemur species because of their reliance on larger trees and the fruits of certain hardwoods. Several species of tree preferred for construction materials are also preferred by ruffed lemurs, so even if a forest is only selectively logged for such materials, the species is still affected. Forest exploitation which does not completely destroy the habitat can also potentially affect ruffed lemur travel routes through the canopy (White et al. 1995).

Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)

Trapping and hunting with traditional weapons of ruffed lemurs occurs as a source of subsistence for local inhabitants (Simons & Lindsay 1987; Evans et al. 1993-1994). Two types of hunting threaten the ruffed lemurs of the Masoala peninsula; using traditional traps across cut swaths of forest (laly) and using firearms (Vasey 1996). The hunting season in this region is between May and September and local attitudes show that while hunting is recognized as illegal, laws are generally not enforced and the local inhabitants are not ashamed about their use of the lemurs (Vasey 1996). Hunting is probably the greatest threat to the lemurs of the Masoala peninsula because while logging and slash and burn agriculture conceivably could be curtailed, hunting would continue (Vasey 1996). Also, even in regions where hunting of lemurs has stopped, hunters pursuing other quarry sometimes adversely affect ruffed lemurs by inadvertently chasing them from favorite food sources. Finally, ruffed lemurs are sometimes also taken alive from their natural habitats as pets or tourist curiosities (Ratsimbazafy 2002).

Threat: Natural Disasters

Tropical cyclones can have a severe impact on ruffed lemurs. In one case, a cyclone destroyed 80% of the forest canopy in a ruffed lemur habitat, severely impacting the large trees the species relies on for food and other aspects of its ecology (Ratsimbazafy 2002). In the ensuing several years, the ruffed lemurs broadened their diet to stave off starvation but remained surprisingly frugivorous. Because of a reduction in body weight resulting from the destruction of food sources, no births were reported for four years among the ruffed lemurs affected by the cyclone (Ratsimbazafy 2002). Thus, tropical storms can represent a significant threat to an already stressed species. It is suggested however that the high reproductive capacity and litter size of the ruffed lemur might be an adaptation to counter such natural occurrences (Ratsimbazafy 2002).


Starting in 1997 a captive-bred reintroduction program was started to reinforce a population of black-and-white ruffed lemurs at Betampona natural reserve in eastern Madagascar (Britt et al. 1988). To date, the program has met with some success, including the successful integration of a male individual into a wild group (Britt et al. 2000). In addition, an introduced male and female have both successfully bred with wild individuals (Britt et al. 2003).





Content last modified: August 17, 2007

Written by Kurt Gron.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2007 August 17. Primate Factsheets: Ruffed lemur (Varecia) Conservation . <>. Accessed 2020 February 23.