New lemur species named after British comedian
November 12, 2005
Researchers from the University of Zurich have named a newly discovered
species of lemur after British comedian John Cleese in honor of his work with
the primates from Madagascar. According to the university, the lemur’s name is a tribute to Cleese’s promotion of the plight of lemurs in the
movie “Fierce Creatures” and documentary “Operation Lemur with John
Avahi cleesei — a type of “Woolly lemur” — weighs less than two pounds, feeds on leaves, and is known for its high pitched whistle. The nocturnal species was discovered near the Manambolo River in Western Madagascar in 1990 by a team from Zurich University. Since then, several new lemur species have been discovered including four in the past year.
Avahi cleesei. Photo courtesy of Urs Thalmann at Zurich University
Lemurs belong to a group of primates known as prosimians that were once distributed worldwide but today have been largely replaced by monkeys. It is only because of Madagascar’s isolation in the Indian Ocean that lemurs have managed to survive and flourish. Currently about 60 kinds of lemurs are recognized by scientists, but many of these are threatened by hunting and habitat loss.
While it has been illegal to kill or keep lemurs as pets since 1964, lemurs are hunted where they are not protected by local taboos (known as fady). Many lemurs are particularly easy targets for hunting because evolution has rendered them ecologically naive in that without natural predators over the majority of their existence, they are less fearful than they should be.
Other well-known lemurs include the aye-aye, the indri, and Verreaux’s sifaka.
This article used information from the Associated Press and the University of Zurich.