The ring-tailed lemur, Lemur catta, is one of 101 extant species of lemur, all of which are found on the islands of Madagascar and the Comoros off the East coast of Africa. Ring-tails use their distinctive and eponymous tail as a territorial and mating display, but it is not prehensile so they cannot use it to climb, hang from, or hold anything. It is the only member of the genus Lemur.
The ring-tailed lemur is found in dry forests and bush throughout the South and Southwest of Madagascar. Though its range is relatively large in relation to the size of the island itself, ring-tailed lemurs are found in fragmented and sometimes completely isolated pockets across the Western and Southern coasts, with some extremely isolated populations found in the eastern mountains. Population density is often described as “patchy” at best. Threats to the ring-tailed lemur are primarily habitat loss and human hunting. Its preference for gallery forest and Euphorbia bush limits the ring-tailed lemur to relatively restricted geographical regions in the South which are continuously under threat from burning to produce pasture for agriculture.
Ring-tailed lemurs possess a wide range of ecological flexibility and are able to colonize a diverse range of habitats including gallery, littoral, and dry deciduous forests; spiny bush, brush, and scrub; high-altitude ericoid bush; and rocky outcrop vegetation. This extreme flexibility leads the scientific community to summarize the ring-tailed lemur as the “best-suited” of Madagascar’s lemur species.
Highly social and matriarchal, the ring-tailed lemur lives in family groups called “troupes” that can be up to 45 members strong. Population density ranges from 0.004 individuals per hectare to 6.6 individuals per hectare, giving a wide range of territorial sizes and densities.
Ring-tailed lemurs are opportunistic omnivores. While their diet primarily consists of tamarind, they are mostly fruit, flower, and leaf eaters but will occasionally prey on insects, birds, and small reptiles.
Cookie is a cheerful and polite lemur who enjoys receiving treats or a new enrichment item for her well-stocked home. Cookie came to live at the Center as a companion for Jeremiah, who had never had proper training in how to live as a lemur. Cookie leads by example, basking in the sunshine in the mornings and popping out from her indoors space to greet visitors passing by. She carefully monitors the fig bush adjacent to her home for ripe fruit all through the summer, and when they are ready to eat, she plucks her delectable delights and munches on them with great relish. She clearly adores Jeremiah, but does make him find his own ripe fruit.
Because Jeremiah previously grew up with humans as a pet before arriving at the Center, he has spent quite a long time learning how to be a lemur. He’s learning -- he's been getting years of training from his lady friend, Cookie. When he receives treats on a spoon from our staff, he often rudely snatches them. That’s not the lemur way! Then Cookie -- in charge of their little troop -- has to discipline him with a pinch. Her training doesn’t work all the time, because our lemur lad is nothing if not stubborn. He is also, however, enormously dedicated to his girl. He especially likes to cuddle up with Cookie at night, his tail wrapped around her body.