Hapalemur aureus Meier, Albignac, Peyrieras, Rumpler, Wright, 1987
The Golden Bamboo Lemur was discovered only in 1987 and is one of the most threatened primates in Madagascar. It is patchily distributed over a small area of rain forest in south-eastern Madagascar. All populations of this species are severely threatened by habitat destruction. Total population is estimated to be only 200-400 individuals. The species eats bamboo almost exclusively. It appears to live in small family groups. None is in a protected area but the forest near Ranomafana, where Hapalemur aureus has been briefly studied, is proposed as a National Park. One pair and their two offspring arc in captivity in Madagascar. None is held outside Madagascar. Listed in Appendix 1 of CITES, in Class A of the African Convention and is protected by Malagasy law.
The paratypes of this newly described species were caught 6.25 km and 250° from the village of Ranomafana (21°16'38"S, 47°23'50"E) in south-eastern Madagascar. It is also known from other bamboo areas south of the Namorona River and northwards to the village of Bevoahaza, eight kms north-east of Ranomafana (Meier et al, 1987). South of Ifanadiana was probably an important location for bamboo lemurs until 25 or so years ago (Meier and Rumpler, 1987). Now nearly all the bamboo and forest is destroyed and it is unlikely that any Hapalemur still surviving there will do so for much longer. "Red bamboo lemurs" were reported by local elders to have been present in the forest near Vondrozo (about 170 km north of Ranomafana) up until 10 years or so ago (Wright et al, 1987).
Total population is estimated to be only 200-400 individuals (E. Simons, in litt.), it is, however, unclear how this figure was obtained. The Golden Bamboo Lemur is undoubtedly declining in numbers and it is considered that the species may well be extinct by the year 2000 without immediate intervention to save some suitable habitat (Meier et al, 1987). Ranomafana forest may contain more than 10,000 ha of suitable habitat (Meier and Rumpler, 1987), but the density of H. aureus there, or elsewhere, is unknown. The status of this species is considered to be slightly better than that of the closely related H. simus (Meier, in litt.).
Found in rain forest, associated with patches of bamboo. At Ranomafana, it is sympatric with both of the other members of the genus Hapalemur, the larger H. simus and the smaller H. griseus (Meier et al, 1987). H. aureus feeds almost exclusively on plants of the Gramineae family, particularly the endemic giant bamboo or "volohosy" (Cephalostachium viguieri ), but also on bamboo creeper and bamboo grass (Meier et al, 1987; Meier and Rumpler, 1987). It eats the base of bamboo leaves and all new growth (Wright et al, 1987). Chemical analysis has shown that the young shoots it eats, which are ignored by the other lemurs, are very high in protein and in toxins that arc lethal to most mammals (Wright, 1989, Glander et al, in press). The Golden Bamboo Lemur has been seen in groups of between two and six individuals (Meier et al, 1987, Wright et al, 1987). The group studied at Ranomafana was composed of an adult male adult female, a slightly smaller subadult and a large Juvenile (Wright et al, 1987). Interbirth interval is estimated to be one year (Wright, 1989). Preliminary observations suggested that the group had a small home range of 16-18 ha and a mean daily path length of only 350m (Wright et al, 1987), but continued study showed that the exclusive territory of the Ranomafana group was approximately 80 ha (Wright, 1989). H. aureus appears to be most active in the early morning and evening and is probably also active for part of the night.
Destruction of the forest by slash and burn agriculture (tavy) is the main threat to this species. Indeed, all known populations of H. aureus are highly endangered because of this destruction (Meier et al, 1987). The forest at Ranomafana is threatened by tavy around its borders and by timber exploitation within the forest. In a 1973 map the forest is shown as 60 km in width; in 1987 it was only 7-15 km wide (Meier and Rumpler, 1987).
An area of 50,000 ha around Ranomafana has been proposed as a National Park. The Park will be made up of four separate areas of land, so that present villages are not included in the park and each will be surrounded by a buffer zone (Wright, 1988). Duke University has set up a research station in this area and further studies will be made on H. aureus. Detailed surveys of other forests are needed to ascertain if the Golden Bamboo Lemur does survive anywhere else. Preserving all areas of forest in which it is found will be of great benefit to the species.
All species of Lemuridae are listed in Appendix 1 of the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Trade in them, or their products, is subject to strict regulation and may not be carried out for primarily commercial purposes.
All Lemuroidea are listed in Class A of the African Convention, 1969. They may not, therefore, be hunted, killed, captured or collected without the authorization of the highest competent authority, and then only if required in the national interest or for scientific purposes.
Malagasy law protects all lemurs from killing and unauthorized capture, but it is difficult to enforce this protection.
Two animals, a male and female, were captured in early 1987 and are now in Parc Tsimbazaza, Antananarivo. An infant was born to this pair in December 1988 (M. Pidgeon, in litt.) and a second infant was born in November 1989 (Meier, in litt.). All four animals were reported to be doing well in January 1990 (Meier, in litt.).
H. aureus is a medium size lemur weighing around 1.5 kg. The average weight for three H. aureus captured in May 1987 in Ranomafana was 1569 g (range 15001640 g) (Glander et al, in press). It has a black face with golden-yellow eyebrows, cheek and throat; underparts are yellow while dorsally there are gray-brown guard hairs over pale orange fur. The sexes are difficult to distinguish. A more detailed description of this newly discovered species can be found in Meier et al (1987). There are no museum specimens, the paratypes are alive, in captivity in Parc Tsimbazaza, Antananarivo.