The Greater bamboo lemur is an easily recognizable primate with characteristic white tufts on its ears. This animal is the largest of the three bamboo lemur species and one of a few mammals, having a bamboo-based diet. Moreover, this lemur totally depends on bamboo. This unique sedentary primate spends most of its active time feeding on bamboo. Unfortunately, this specialist species cannot adapt to quick changes in its environment. The Greater bamboo lemurs were firstly discovered in 1870. However, due to large-scale clearing and resulting fragmentation of their rainforest habitat, these animals had to live in small, isolated populations and were considered to have gone extinct until the beginning of the 20th century, being discovered again in 1972.
The Greater bamboo lemur is a Madagascar primate, inhabiting areas in and around the Ranomafana National Park in south-eastern Madagascar. Additionally, this animal may occur in the Andringitra Massif and near Vondrozo. Preferred habitat of the Greater bamboo lemur is humid primary rainforest with tall bamboo trees.
These lemurs are social creatures, forming groups of up to 28 individuals, although an average group size is 4 - 7 animals. They occasionally occur in mixed groups with Brown lemurs and Gray gentle lemurs. The social system of Greater bamboo lemurs is unknown. However, unlike most lemurs, males of this species are likely to dominate females. As crepuscular animals, Greater bamboo lemurs are generally active at dawn and dusk. However, these animals have also been reported to be active nocturnally. Greater bamboo lemurs are tree-dwelling primates, but spend considerable amount of time on the ground. Greater bamboo lemurs communicate with each other through vocalizations. One of the main calls is the contact call - a strong yelping vocalization, which gathers the group members. Another important call is the repeated alarm signal, given out when threatened or disturbed and pronounced "ouik-grrraaa".
Greater bamboo lemurs are polygynous, which means that one male mates with multiple females. Mating occurs in May-June. Females generally give birth in November, which coincides with the transitional dry and wet seasons. A single infant is born after a gestation period of 142 - 149 days. During the first 5 weeks of its life, the newborn lemur is cared by its mother. When the infant is 7 - 8 weeks old, the mother gradually deceases nursing, after which the baby begins to explore its surroundings, venturing to faraway areas. Weaning takes place at about 8 months old. And finally, at 3 - 4 years old, young males leave their natal groups.
One of the biggest threats to the population of this endangered species is large-scale cutting of bamboo trees, on which the Greater bamboo lemurs are dependent. Another serious concern is destruction of rainforests for slash-and-burn agriculture. Furthermore, localized hunting as well as habitat disturbance, fragmentation and destruction are compounded by very small natural range. Additionally, the Greater bamboo lemurs are unable to successfully breed due to living in small, isolated populations. On the other hand, some of these isolated populations in lowland areas are known to carry various parasites, threatening not only their health, but also lifespan.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Greater bamboo lemurs is over 500 individuals, living in 11 subpopulations. Each of these subpopulations contains less than 250 adult lemurs. Overall, the population of Greater bamboo lemurs is decreasing today, and these animals are classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List.
The role of Greater bamboo lemurs in the ecosystem of their habitat is insufficiently explored, although their diet allows them to serve as important seeds dispersers of some plants and primarily - bamboo.