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Story Behind the Picture: Red Ruffed Lemur

Nikon D5, Nikon 200-400mm, f6.3, 1/60 second

Ruffed lemurs are among the most endangered of lemur species. They require intact primary rain forests as they are heavily reliant on large fruiting trees, which are the first to be removed when any deforestation occurs. In many areas of Madagascar where they still survive, ruffed lemurs are also targeted for the bush meat as they are large and relatively easy to catch.

Getting to eye level with red ruffed lemurs does not happen very often

This female red ruffed lemur seemed as curious about me as I was transfixed by her.

Being primary forest canopy dwellers makes them very challenging to photograph as they are, more often than not, high up in the trees. Red ruffed lemurs are restricted to the Masoala Peninsula on the north east coast of the island, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time following and trying to photograph this species. It is not easy.

Masoala is very hilly - steep densely forested slopes descending to the coast and beautiful golden beaches. It's stunningly beautiful. I’ve concentrated my photographic efforts along ridge lines, hoping to get views of ruffed lemurs in the canopy of trees down slope, such that they are effectively at my eye level. Early in the morning groups of highly territorial red ruffed lemurs are very vocal, their raucous calls reverberating through the forest. This, of course, helps pin point their approximate location. Once a group is found, it is simply a case of following them and trying to work into a position where a photograph may be taken.

To add to the challenge the light levels in the forest are generally low as the canopy cuts out so much light. Direct sunshine is also a disaster as it results in horrid distracting highlights and deep shadows in a photo. Light overcast conditions are ideal for soft lighting. The number of times all these imponderable factors come together are few are far between.