Sifakas are lemurs. Local Malagasy people named them for the unique call they send echoing through Madagascar's forests, which sounds like "shif-auk." These primates spend most of their time in the trees, but don't get around in the same way that other lemurs do. Sifakas remain upright, and they leap quickly from tree to tree by jumping with their powerful hind legs. In this way, they clear distances of over 30 feet (9 meters). They can also move quickly on the ground, which they do using a two-legged sideways hop.
Sifakas are beautifully colored. They may have different colored limbs and bodies, and often their heads are multicolored with patches of black, white, gray, or golden-colored fur. These vegetarian primates eat leaves, flowers, fruit, buds, and tree bark—sifakas have been known to eat about 100 different plants. They forage during daylight hours and go to sleep aloft before sunset.
Sifakas live in small family groups of three to ten animals. It is believed that only one female from each group breeds, while males may move from group to group.
There are three species of sifaka: Coquerel's sifaka, the diademed sifaka, and the golden-crowned sifaka. The golden-crowned sifaka wasn't photographed until 1982 and wasn't known to be a separate species until 1988. They are the smallest of the sifakas and among the most endangered. There may be less than 10,000 living in the wild.
All sifakas are threatened by the destruction of their forest habitats. Some species are hunted for meat, though others are protected by Malagasy tradition that forbids eating their flesh.