chap. i — meet the aye aye

Aye Aye

Daubentonia madagascariensis

Animal Stats

OrderPrimates
FamilyDaubentoniidae
PopulationUnknown but declining
Weightfrom 2.6 kg
Sizefrom 56 to 61 cm
Threat StatusEndangered

Where It Lives

chap. ii — Fascinating Facts

The primate that uses echo-location

The aye-aye is the world’s largest nocturnal primate and the only one to use echo-location to find food. Its strong jaws can even bite through aluminium and concrete.

chap. iii — a closer look

The Aye Aye's Story

The aye-aye is the world’s largest nocturnal primate and, like other lemurs, is found only in Madagascar. It has evolved a series of adaptations to fit its unusual feeding habits, making it one of the most bizarre-looking animals on the planet. 

Among the aye-aye’s peculiar features are its skeletally thin middle finger, which it uses to tap on branches before listening for the reverberations of grubs moving in cavities beneath the tree-bark with its large ears – a process known as echolocation. If a grub is heard, the aye-aye rips open the cavity with its incredibly strong teeth and hooks out the grub with its highly dextrous fourth finger. This finger has its own ball and socket joint, making it especially effective at ‘fishing out’ the grubs. 

Sometimes referred to as Madagascar’s version of the woodpecker, the aye-aye is known to occur in numerous protected areas across the country, including 13 national parks and 13 special reserves. Yet because it’s sighted so infrequently, scientists still have only a limited understanding of how many aye-aye’s there actually are. Consequently, there’s an urgent need for a systematic census of the species throughout its range, with the ultimate objective of developing a conservation action plan that protects its long-term future.

Even more worryingly, the aye-aye’s odd appearance has led to the rise of local superstitions regarding it as an evil omen and a crop-pest. In many areas, it’s killed on sight. Meanwhile, widespread habitat loss in Madagascar caused by agriculture and land development is putting the aye-aye’s forest home at risk. Together, these twin threats have resulted in a drastic decline in the aye-aye population.

What’s being done?

As of 2010, there were approximately 50 aye-ayes in various zoological collections worldwide, including a captive breeding programme involving various institutions managed under an European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) and a Species Survival Plan (SPP). However, the species has not yet bred successfully in second generation in captivity, meaning local conservation is the most important factor in improving its survival prospects. The local Malagasy organisation “Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates de Madagascar” (GERP) is leading a programme of work that includes population monitoring efforts, reforestation projects and community engagement and education to promote co-existence with lemurs. Monitoring efforts are led by volunteer forest patrols, including community members who are trained in gathering data and patrolling the forests.