23.1f – The Sportive Lemurs

Loner lemurs. (Sahamalaza sportive lemur photo by R. Hilgartner)

At long last we have scrambled across the entire island nation of Madagascar, we have scoured its corners and learned about the lemurs, that remarkable, cooperative, sometimes strange, often endangered branch of the primate group. Only one family of lemurs remains unaccounted for — the sportive lemurs.

While most of the lemurs we’ve seen so far have been generally kind, sportive lemurs do not like members of their own species and gender. They are nocturnal lemurs, about a foot in length with a tail that goes on for another foot, and they live alone. Males and females have their own territory, and these may overlap, but no male is allowed to overlap his territory with another male, and similarly no female is allowed to overlap her territory with another female. If this happens, whoever was there first will get very angry, rather violent, and there will be a fight.

Like many lemurs, sportive lemurs stick to the trees when they can, but when drawn to the ground they move about in hops, more like a kangaroo than an indriid. Sportive lemurs are on the whole not as active as the other lemurs. They rest and conserve energy during the day, and when they come out at night, though they are very good climbers and jumpers, they keep their activity rate to a reasonable level and don’t make a fuss. A sportive lemur would much rather pass by unnoticed if it can.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell a sportive lemur apart from a woolly lemur, or even a large dwarf lemur. The trick is in the ears. Sportive lemurs tend to have big ears. If you see a lemur with big round ears sticking out from its head, you’ve probably got a sportive lemur situation on your hands. Let the poor fellow pass on into the night in peace.

There is something of a funny trend in recent animal discoveries, and the sportive lemurs give me a chance to touch on it. Once upon a time animals were named almost exclusively for their physical characteristics. If a lemur has white feet, it becomes the white-footed sportive lemur. If it has small teeth, it becomes the small-toothed sportive lemur. That sort of thing. Other times the animal is named for its location in a given area — if it’s found to the north of that type of animal’s range, perhaps it might be named the northern sportive lemur, for example. This is all relatively straightforward.

As you get away from the better-known animals in a group, particularly in a group with a lot of different species, you start to find animals that are named after a person, often the person who discovered it, but sometimes as an homage to someone who did a lot of work with that type of animal. At times this leads to a straightforward name — there is Hubbard’s Sportive Lemur, for example, or Scott’s Sportive Lemur, even Otto’s Sportive Lemur. Other times it leads to names that have a bit more flourish to them — for example, Flaurete’s Sportive Lemur, or Randrianasolo’s Sportive Lemur.

And sometimes, once in a great while, they name a lemur after something that doesn’t even sound like it should belong in the realm of animal names. When a research team discovered a new type of lemur after twelve years of work, they decided to name the lemur after their sponsor, the Association Europeenne pour l’Etude et la Conservation des Lemuriens (The European Association for the Study and Conservation of Lemurs). And thus, AEECL’s sportive lemur was born. You are supposed to pronounce each letter separately, like an acronym. And yes, that is the animal’s official name. I am certain that the AEECL has done fantastic work with lemurs and deserves every accolade they can receive; it’s only that my sense of aesthetics wishes they could have found a better-sounding name for their lemur.

“Wait, my scientific name is Lepilemur aeeclis? You guys have got to be kidding me.” (AEECL’s sportive lemur photo by U. Thalmann)