Zoological investigations IV

The golden bamboo lemur, Hapalemur aureus was not formally discovered until the ripe old year of 1987 on that beautiful and mysterious island located off the eastern coast of Africa — Madagascar. This wonderful little primate is typically about 11-18″ long (not including the 9-13″ long tail) and weighs only 3.5 lbs on average. It tends to travel in groups of 2-6 individuals, often a male, female and offspring of varying ages.

The range of H. aureus overlaps with that of two other closely related species — the greater bamboo lemur, H. simus and the grey bamboo lemur, H. griseus. All three species eat, as their name implies, bamboo. But let’s get specific; these lemurs eat from the giant bamboo known in Latin as Cephalostachyum viguieri so just try saying that one five times fast. Go on, try it.
“Who cares what the damn bamboo is called! I’ve got more important things to do, like studying or procrastinating about studying!” you very likely have just exclaimed in a fit of rage at your pronunciative failure. But you should care about what the bamboo is called, because it is full of cyanide! The greater bamboo lemurs and grey bamboo lemurs eat parts of the plant from which cyanide is virtually absent, or at the very least are very low in cyanide (safe doses like in almonds). But the reason I am writing about the little golden bamboo lemur is because it eats primarily the fresh young shoots of the giant bamboo, which are chock full of cyanide. (Cyanide is really interesting to talk about all on its own, but for now, let’s just consider that it works by preventing the uptake of oxygen by the blood — spooky).

Some enthusiastic researchers (Glander et al., 1989) observed the golden bamboo lemur eating roughly 500 g of bamboo each day, and then they did some fancy math based on weights and lethal dosages and found out that our friend H. aureus is eating approximately 12 times the lethal dose of cyanide like it was a bowl of ice cream and they’d skipped dinner. Not even a bellyache! And how do they do it? Nobody knows!

Well, winter is coming, and will last at least six months. Miserable thoughts like “I don’t wanna go outside,” and “It’s too cold and depressing and the city can’t get it together to plow the freakin’ sidewalks in a timely fashion,” will probably endure for most of those six months? So there’s no shortage of misery, but I will leave you for this edition with a bleak thought to nurse along with all the other bleak thoughts of winter you will be thinking soon enough: the golden bamboo lemur is now classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered. The major reason for the decline in H. aureus numbers is thought to be a result of “slash-and-burn” agricultural practices, i.e. habitat loss in the form of deforestation. The only known populations, according to the IUCN, are found in two of Madagascar’s National Parks and a small captive breeding program for golden bamboo lemurs was in place until recently.