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Swiss name lemur after master of silly walks

A Cleese woolly lemur blending in with its natural environment.

(Urs Thalmann)

Two Zurich University researchers have discovered a new species of lemur, and named it after Monty Python star John Cleese.

Anthropologist Urs Thalmann says the naming is certainly no joke and a tribute to the 66-year-old British actor's conservation work.

The only physical attribute the animal shares with Cleese is its long legs, he added.

John Cleese is famous – among other things - for his Silly Walks sketch.

"Woolly lemurs can't really walk – but they do enjoy silly jumps," the science journal New Scientist quoted Thalmann as saying.

The anthropologist and his colleague Thomas Geissman discovered the new species in a nature reserve in a remote region of central western Madagascar 15 years ago. It has taken until now to have the discovery scientifically verified.

Special diet

Avahi cleesei weighs around a kilogram and eats leaves and buds. It is classed as "endangered" by the World Conservation Union.

Thalmann told swissinfo the lemur belongs to the wollmaki group, but is set apart from its nearest relation by its lighter fur colour and facial markings.

The scientist said there were no plans to bring any of the lemurs to Switzerland.

"These lemurs need special leaves and can only survive a few days in captivity because without this special food they die."

Cleese has promoted conservation issues in films such as Fierce Creatures and in a documentary about Madagascar's lemur population.

And a ring-tailed lemur features on the homepage of the actor's website.

"Absurd" fondness

"I was really touched, and indeed, honoured when Urs Thalmann told me they would like to name the lemur after me," Cleese told swissinfo.

"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 re-double my efforts for our furry friends."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The new species of lemur, Avahi cleesei, was discovered by Zurich University researchers Urs Thalmann and Thomas Geissman.
The endangered woolly lemur, or wollmaki, weighs around one kilogram and eats leaves.
It has beige to yellow-beige fur and distinct facial markings.
Avahi cleesei lives in small family groups and produces young every year.
It can only survive for a few days in captivity.

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