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Madagascar: A Guide to Using the Film as an Educational Tool for Lemur Conservation

Ring-tailed lemurs in the Berenty reserve. Photo: Jen Tinsman

Learn what lemur species appear in the animated Madagascar film. Find tips for using the movie to learn and teach about lemurs, Madagascar, biodiversity, and conservation.

The Dreamworks animated film, Madagascar,  has helped people recognize lemurs and know the name of the only place in the world where they are found, Madagascar. It features engaging lemur characters and imagery of Madagascar. Thus, the film is an incredible opportunity to learn about these curious creatures and their wild habitats.

What does the Dreamworks film get right and wrong about lemurs and Madagascar?

While there are scientific inaccuracies in the animated Madagascar movie, they can be the perfect introduction to teaching about lemurs, their conservation status, and their home in Madagascar.

What the Dreamworks Film Gets Right 

Fact 1: A variety of lemur species are shown in the film.

The movie’s main lemur characters are King Julien the ring-tailed lemur, Maurice the aye-aye, and Mort the mouse lemur.

You can also see a variety of other lemurs, including ruffed lemurs, sifakas, crowned lemurs, blue-eyed black lemurs, and brown lemurs. These fun, animated characters a great introduction to the diversity of Madagascar’s over 100 lemur species.

Fact 2: Fossas are one of the main natural predators of lemurs.

Fossa photo from a camera trap courtesy of Lemur Conservation Foundation and Patrick Ross

Fossas are prominent in the film as the animal that the lemurs fear the most. Teachers can use fossas in lessons about predator-prey relationships, the magnificent biodiversity and endemism of Madagascar, and the importance of lemurs to all animals on the island.

Other natural predators for many lemurs are large birds like hawks.

Fact 3: Madagascar has many unique habitats, and its wildlife has adapted to live in it. 

Madagascar also highlights the beauty and diversity of the island’s many habitats. Use this imagery to teach about the regions of Madagascar and how different lemurs are adapted for different environments. The film showcases rainforests and beaches, the jagged rocks of the tsingy, majestic Baobab trees, and the cacti of the spiny forest.

Fact 4: Madagascar has lots of unique wildlife in addition to lemurs.

Lower hedgehog tenrec in Ifaty, Madagascar. Photo: Robin Agarwal.

The film features many of Madagascar’s other unique wildlife in cameos, including geckos, chameleons, boas, crocodiles, and tenrecs.

In fact, Madagascar is home to the world’s smallest chameleon, the world’s smallest primates, and tons of fascinating plant and animal species that are specially adapted to live in the unique habitats across the island.

How Lemurs and Madagascar are Unique

What the Dreamworks Film Gets Wrong

Ring-tailed lemur. Photo: Mathias Appel

Myth 1: Male lemurs rule the troops.

In the movie, King Julien is the ring-tailed lemur who is king of all the lemurs. But in reality, it should be Queen Juliette!

In ring-tailed lemur groups, and in most lemur species, females are in charge. Female lemurs get preferential treatment, like the best food and sleeping spots.

More Facts about Lemurs

Myth 2: There are no or very few people that live on Madagascar.

In the movie, not a single person lives on the island. But in the real world, over 26 million people call Madagascar home. It is also one of the world’s financially poorest countries, with most people living on less than $2 a day.

Myth 3: Madagascar is a pristine haven for wildlife.

Local people work with the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership on reforestation efforts.

About 90% of Madagascar’s plants and animals live nowhere else. But, much of Madagascar’s forests have been damaged or destroyed in the 19th and 20th century.

Now, lemurs are considered the most endangered group of mammals in the world. A primary reason for this is habitat loss.

Threats and Solutions

Anthropomorphizing Lemurs in the Animated Movie, Madagascar

The Benefits of Anthropomorphizing Lemurs

Pair of Crowned Lemurs on tree stump

Crowned Lemurs. Photo by Mathias Appel.

No doubt, the film instills a love for lemurs. Anthropomorphizing the lemurs creates an emotional connection to the characters that inspires a deeper appreciation for them than a non-talking animal could.

And, conservation educators often aim to create emotional connections with animals in hopes that this will lead to conservation actions to protect those animals in the wild. If an animated movie can help more people love lemurs, we can use that love to educate and  inspire.

The problem with anthropomorphizing lemurs is it encourages the pet lemur trade.

Ring-tailed lemur baby

Ring-tailed lemur baby. Photo: Mathias Appel.

Research shows that viewing primates in anthropomorphic settings can increase their desirability as a pet and increase the likelihood that viewers don’t believe the animal is endangered.

And in fact, the pet lemur trade threatens the survival of lemurs in Madagascar. Babies are often taken from the wild to be household pets or live in captive tourist settings. The most common pet lemurs in are ring-tailed lemurs, just like King Julien from the film Madagascar.

Teaching lessons should note that while lemurs are cute, they do not make good pets.

Learn about the Dangers of Lemurs as Pets

Embracing the Film as an Educational Tool

The Lemur Conservation Network encourages zoo educators and science teachers to embrace the Dreamworks’ animated Madagascar movie as an important teaching tool. We hope it inspires life-long learning of these amazing animals and the fascinating island they call home.