Know Your Primate: Avahi cleesei

Order: Primates
Suborder: Strepsirrhini
Family: Indriidae
Genus: Avahi
Species: Avahi Cleesei
Long time readers of Seed should be familiar with this woolly lemur. It was discovered in 1990, but was not described and named, for a variety of reasons, until 2005. The species was named after John Cleese (more on that below).


Cleese’s lemur resides in Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in western Madagascar. It prefers subhumid dry deciduous forests. It is diurnal and is a folivore with, apparently, a narrow diet feeding on only a few preferred tree types. They are about the same size as sportive lemurs. Other than that, not much is known about them.
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You may be wondering why someone would name a lemur after John Cleese. The answer is simple, Cleese loves lemurs and has made several documentaries about them.
As he says in New Scientist:

I was really touched, and indeed, honoured (a cliché, but it’s true), when Urs Thalmann told me they would like to name the lemur after me (12 November, p 6).
I’m absurdly fond of the little creatures, and if I had to show any of my programmes to St Peter upon my arrival at the Pearly Gates, I think I would show him my documentary made about them in Madagascar. I help with conservation a bit, here and there, and so will redouble my efforts for our furry friends.

Below is Cleese’s documentary on lemurs.

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5 Responses

  1. Definition of human: “creature who might be bringing us bananas.” LOLOL!
    Great film, very informative and with a generous dash of Cleese’s silly humor.
    I pity the poor camera and sound crew. Stomping through the rain forest in 90% humidity is tough enough, but doing it while schlepping – what, 50 or 60 pounds of equipment each? – along with them….. They must be bat$#!+ insane, extremely dedicated, or both. I vote for both.

  2. About 7 years ago I was hired to play light background music for some dinner/reception at a conference, which turned out to be a zoology conference. While on a smoke break, one of the conference attendees started chatting with me about jazz, and after a while I asked him, “So what do you do?”
    “I’ve spent the last three years in Madagascar studying lemurs.”
    Me: “Wow! Say, I didn’t get to see it, but wasn’t there a documentary out recently about lemurs hosted by John Cleese?”
    Him: “Yeah, that was my project.” Turns out I was talking with Adam Britt, featured in the documentary.
    A behind-the-scenes tidbit he shared — apparently John Cleese needs to have a cold beer at the end of each day, so the BBC hauled in some kind of high-tech portable refrigerator fully stocked with enough beer for the crew and all the researchers for a week.
    What I remember most about that conversation was the awe and reverence Adam showed for the miracle of cold beer in the jungle.

  3. I was trying to figure out why anybody would name a lemur species after John Cleese. For the record, I like John Cleese, and I think it’s cool that he likes lemurs. This particular lemur is awfully cute! And I think it’s even cooler that they’ve named a lemur after him, since he likes them, too.
    Anne G

  4. I liked his market analogy for adaptive radiation, simple, and to the point.

  5. Very disappointing that Cleese mixes up evolution and development (EAS?), as in “we developed large brains.” Even though, he does refer to evolution later on. Here, though, he says “evolved sideways”, which again feeds the notion that there is anything more or less upwards. I don’t have a problem thinking of evolution as progress (but locally defined, only), but then the sideways of lemurs is as much upwards as apes.

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