Indri indri – “Babakoto”

Indri indri – “Babakoto”
diet myths eating at night
Image by wallygrom
Perinet Reserve.

From Wikipedia –
The Indri (Indri indri), also called the Babakoto, is one of the largest living lemurs. It is a diurnal tree-dweller related to the sifakas and, like all lemuroids, it is native to Madagascar.

The name "indri" comes from the Malagasy word indry meaning "there" or "there it is." French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat heard a Malagasy point out the animal and took the word to be its name. The Malagasy name for the animal is babakoto. Babakoto is most commonly translated as "ancestor" or "father", but several translations are possible. "Koto" is a Malagasy word for "little boy", and "baba" is a term for "father", so the word "babakoto" may be translated as "father of a little boy." The father-son dynamic of many of the Babakoto origin myths helps to explain the Malagasy name.

Synonyms include –
Genus:
Indris Cuvier, 1800
Lichanotus Illiger, 1811
Indrium Rafinesque, 1815
Lichanotes Temminck, 1827
Pithelemur Lesson, 1840
Species:
Lemur indri Gmelin, 1788
Indri brevicaudatus E. Geoffroy and G. Cuvier, 1796
Indri niger Lacépède, 1799
Indris ater I. Geoffroy, 1825
Lichanotus mitratus Peters, 1871
Indris variegatus Gray, 1872

Along with the Diademed Sifaka, the Indri is the largest lemur still in existence. It has a head-body length of 64-72 cm (2.10-2.36 ft) and can reach nearly 120 cm (3.9 ft) with legs fully extended. It can weigh between 6 and 9.5 kg (13 and 21 lb), though the average is on the lower end of the range.

The Indri is a vertical clinger and leaper and thus holds its body upright when traveling through trees or resting in branches. It has long, muscular legs which it uses to propel itself from trunk to trunk. Its large greenish eyes and black face are framed by round, fuzzy ears that some say give it the appearance of a teddy bear. Unlike any other living lemur, the Indri has only a rudimentary tail. The silky fur is mostly black with white patches along the limbs, neck, crown, and lower back. Different populations of the species show wide variations in color, with some northern populations consisting of mostly or entirely black individuals. The face is bare with pale black skin, and it is sometimes fringed with white fur.

Due to these color variations, Colin Groves listed two subspecies of the Indri in 2005: The dark Indri indri indri from the northern part of its range and the relatively pale Indri indri variegatus from the southern part. Later editions of Lemurs of Madagascar by Russell Mittermeier et al. do not recognize this classification, and recent genetic and morphological work suggests the variation in the Indri is clinal.

The Indri practices long-term monogamy, seeking a new partner only after the death of a mate. It lives in small groups consisting of the mated male and female and their maturing offspring. In the more fragmented forests of their range, the Indri may live in larger groups with several generations. Habitat fragmentation limits the mobility and capacity of these large groups to break into smaller units.

Female Indri bear offspring every two to three years, with a gestation period of approximately 60 days. The single infant is usually born in May or June. The mother is the primary caregiver, though the father assists, remaining with his mate and offspring. Infants are born mostly or completely black and begin to show white coloration (if any) by two or three months of age. The infant will cling to its mother’s belly until it is four or five months old, at which time it is ready to move onto her back. The Indri begins to demonstrate independence at eight months, but it will not be fully independent from its mother until it is at least two years old. The Indri reaches reproductive maturity between seven and nine years of age: a relatively slow rate.

The Indri is well known for its loud, distinctive songs, which can last from 45 seconds to more than 3 minutes. Song duration and structure varies among and even within groups, but most songs have the following three-phase pattern.

Usually, a "roar sequence" lasting for several seconds will precede the more characteristic vocalizations. All members of the group (except the very young) participate in this roar, but the song proper is dominated by the adult pair. They follow the roar with a "long note sequence", characterized by notes of up to 5 seconds in duration. After this is the "descending phrase sequence". The wails begin on a high note and become progressively lower-pitched. It is common here for two or more Indri to coordinate the timing of their descending notes to form a duet.

Different Indri groups typically sing sequentially, responding to one another. As well as solidifying contacts between groups, the songs may communicate territorial defense and boundaries, environmental conditions, reproductive potential of the group members, and warning signals. The Indri may sing after disturbances such as thunder, airplanes, bird calls, and other lemur calls. A group will sing almost every day, up to seven times daily. The peak singing hours are between 7 and 11 AM. Daily frequency of song is highest in November and December (near breeding season), when the Indri are even heard during the night.

Several other Indri vocalizations have been identified. The "roar" is also used as a warning signal for aerial predators such as hawks. The Indri emit a "hoot" or "honk" to warn of terrestrial predators such as the fossa. Other vocal categories include the "grunt", "kiss", "wheeze", and "hum". The purpose of these is still not entirely clear.

The Indri is herbivorous and primarily folivorous. It prefers young, tender leaves but will also eat seeds, fruits, and flowers. Female Indri seem to have greater preference for immature leaves than males do and will spend more time foraging among them. A wide variety of plant species are consumed, with members of the laurel family featuring prominently in the diet. The Indri consumes little non-tree vegetation.

To feed, the Indri plucks off a leaf or other plant part with its teeth. It uses its hands to pull tree branches closer to its mouth.

This lemur inhabits the lowland and montane forests along the eastern coast of Madagascar, from the Réserve Spéciale d’Anjanaharibe-Sud in the north to the Mangoro River in the south. They are absent from the Masoala Peninsula and the Marojejy National Park, even though both regions are connected to forests where indri do occur less than 40 km away.

Across Madagascar, the Indri is revered and protected by fady (taboos). There are countless variations on the legend of the Indri’s origins, but they all treat it as a sacred animal, not to be hunted or harmed.

According to one origin myth, a boy went into the forest to collect honey, was stung by bees, and fell from a tree. An Indri caught him and carried him to safety.

Most legends establish a closer relationship between the Indri and humans. In some regions it is believed that there were two brothers who lived together in the forest until one of them decided to leave and cultivate the land. That brother became the first human, and the brother who stayed in the forest became the first Indri. The Indri cries in mourning for his brother who went astray.
Another legend tells of a man who went hunting in the forest and did not return. His absence worried his son, who went out looking for him. When the son also disappeared, the rest of the villagers ventured into the forest seeking the two but discovered only two large lemurs sitting in the trees: the first Indri. The boy and his father had transformed. In some versions it is only the son who transforms, and the wailing of the Babakoto is analogous to the father’s wailing for his lost son.

In all of the Babakoto origin myths, there is some connection of the lemur with humanity, usually through common ancestry. It is easy to see why the Indri is so closely identified with humans. Its long legs, large upright body, lack of a prominent tail, vocalizations, and complex systems of communication are all reminiscent of human traits.

Another human-like characteristic of the Indri is its behavior in the sun. Like its sifaka relatives, the Indri frequently engages in what has been described as sun-bathing or sun-worshipping. As the sun rises each morning, it will sit and face it from a tree branch with its legs crossed, back straight, hands low with palms facing out or resting on its knees, and eyes half-closed. Biologists are hesitant to call this behavior sun worship, as the term may be overly anthropomorphic. However, many Malagasy people do believe that the Indri worships the sun.

The Indri is an endangered species. The primary threats to its existence are habitat destruction and fragmentation due to slash and burn agriculture, fuelwood gathering, and logging. This kind of destruction occurs even in protected areas.

The Indri is also widely hunted, despite the many origin myths and traditional taboos (fady) which hold it sacred. Cultural erosion and immigration are partly to blame for the breakdown of traditional beliefs. In some cases, Malagasy people who resent the protective fady find ways to circumvent them. People whose fady forbid them from eating the Indri may still hunt the lemurs and sell their flesh, and those forbidden to kill the Indri may still purchase and consume them. Indri meat is prized as a delicacy in some regions.

COMMENTS

  • patrick.marks

    Nice picture – good detail of face – great animals – hpe to see them in a few weeks – who did you use for ankarana guide?

  • wallygrom

    They are fabulous animals – you must try to hear them early in the morning when they wake the forest with their howling!

    We used a man called Desire Tsimpa as our guide at Ankarana. We arranged it at the entrance gate. He was very good, although you need to speak French.

    We were also recommended a pair of brothers called Angelin and Angeluc who do both Ankarana and Montagne d’Hambre. I think they are based at Joffre Ville in Diego Suarez.

    Are you doing the whole of Madagascar? It is a truly amazing place!

  • patrick.marks

    We’re doing as much as is practical in 25 days – montagne d’ambre, ankarana, analamera and daraina then south to ampijoroa and ramamofana and perinet etc. How much we’ll manage depends upon timing of travel!

    In Perinet were you at the main indir area or at the mitsinjo ngo area across the road?

  • wallygrom

    It’s one of those places where you would need forever to see everything! We were there for 35 days – and we did cheat slightly by doing a few internal flights, just in order to cover the distance quickly – although we also made a couple of long journeys by road too. You miss so much by flying.

    In Perinet, the hotel we stayed at (Feon n’y Ala) was very close to the Indris – in the morning we were woken up by the howling. We then drove about 2km to the park entrance. It is a very good starting point for the night walks, which are well worth doing.

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