National Geographic : 1988 Aug
ago. Conspicuous by their absencewere elephants, large carnivores, and especially mon keys-potentialcompetitors thatevolved later on the main land. Thus, no competition faced the lemurs, and eventually they developed into today's 28 species and 40 subspecies. Gone forever are more than a dozen of theirforebears,nearly all of them largerthan today's lemurs. Hanging to feed among the foliage, Palaeopropithecus (top left) was the size of a chimpan zee but moved more like a sloth, never bounding, hopping, or leaping.Like most ancient lemurs, it spent some time on the ground because of its weight. Among the largestwas Megaladapis (lower left); one species may have weighed more than 200 pounds.A browser, it probably clung to a tree like a huge koala, using a prehensile snout to draw leafy branches toward its mouth. Basically terrestrial,baboon-likeArchae olemur (bottom right)-a short-limbedquadrupedwith a wide, heavy trunk-was built for power ratherthan speed. Skull of Mesopropithecus pithecoides (top right,at cen ter), among the smallest extinct lemurs, is surroundedby extinct giants (clockwisefrom lower left): Archaeolemur edwardsi, Megaladapis grandidieri, Palaeopropithecusmaximus, andPachylemur jullyi. These large,gentle creatures enjoyed a long heyday until aboutA.D.500, when afarmore aggressiveprimate, man, began arrivingwith a mixed heritage from Africa and the Malay Ar chipelago. Within the past thou sandyears, 14 species of lemurs have become extinct, their habi tat burnedfor farmlandand overgrazed by livestock, and theirdoom hastenedby over hunting. Those same problems beset the survivors today. PAINTING BY STEPHENNASH SKULLSCOURTESYCOLLECTIONOF THE ACADEMIEMALGACHE Archaeolemur Weight about 35 pounds, size of a female baboon;terrestrial.