Lemur Island: Tuesday April 10

lemur island
(6/10) 19.15–20.00

In a corner of the remote island of Madagascar lives a remarkable and unique prosimian species: the ring-tailed lemur. This ten-part series provides a lemur’s eye view of these fascinating creatures as they go about their daily routine. This week, a drought tests the endurance of the lemurs and strains the fabric of their society.

In the Graveyard Gang, the social cracks begin to appear as drought sets in. Dominant female Crystal and her immediate family claim the best of the sparse pickings, while Crystal’s aunt Liberty and her family scratch a living in the dust, eating clay to draw out toxins from their poor diet. But fortunes change when Crystal leads her gang on a risky trek across open land to a tamarind tree. The tree provides a perfect feast with its juicy fruit – once the lemurs crack the tough, sausage-like pods, that is. It is a lifeline for Liberty, and she is reluctant to leave when Crystal decides it is time to go home.

The reason for Crystal’s caution appears the next day – she has given birth to a daughter, Jasmine, and is so distracted by her new responsibility that she forgets about the need to forage. For Liberty, the strain becomes too much, so she leads her family out on a foraging trip to the far side of town, where they discover one benefit of human neighbours – rubbish bins to scavenge!

Meanwhile, Crystal finally sets out with the remaining Graveyardies to strip a few meagre leaves – barely enough if she is to nurse her infant for six weeks. And there are other risks – a family of yellow-billed kites is nesting nearby. These birds are more of a nuisance than a threat to the adult lemurs, but an infant could prove a tempting morsel for a hungry kite.

While the Graveyard Gang are away, the Tornado Troop risk a raid on their base – only to find less food there than they have back home. They linger too long, however, and are caught by Crystal and her family – it is a dangerous moment, as the Graveyard Gang are outnumbered. But the tense stand-off ends when the male lemurs settle the dispute with nothing more vicious than posturing and scent-marking.

Nevertheless, when the prodigal aunt Liberty returns, she and her family are shunned by Crystal and co. The two groups sleep apart – a serious sign as it wastes body heat on a cold night. The next day dawns with another new arrival – Crystal’s mother Josephine has had a baby, but she has also been attacked. Liberty, slipping further down the social ladder, is the prime suspect.

This social split is being closely watched by the lonely figure of Electra. Formerly the Tornado Troop’s dominant female, she was violently usurped just after giving birth and her son died that same night. Half of all lemur babies, in fact, do not live to adulthood. Outcast and grief-stricken, Electra haunts the borders of the Graveyard, in dire need of company if she is to survive.

Despite social tensions, the Graveyard Gang is forced to work together, hunting far and wide for food, but the rift is still evident, and the drought continues. Then, as the strain gets unbearable, the lemurs wake to a blustery morning, heralding leaden skies and a life-giving downpour. Almost immediately the forest is refreshed, flowers bloom, and the lemurs can feast at last.

For Electra, the relief is twofold, as it seems her exile is over and she is accepted back into the Tornado Troop. The drought may yet continue, but for now, it seems full bellies breed contentment.

About the author

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1