Four baby black-and-white ruffed lemurs went on display this week at the Philadelphia Zoo’s PECO Primate Reserve. Together with their parents, Huey and Kiaka, the lemur family sits just inside the entrance to the primate house. The babies were born on February 21st, so they’re a little more than two months old.
Everything is going well with the lemurs’ introduction to their new habitat, according to Philadelphia Zoo lead primate keeper Desiree Brown. They haven’t been startled by all the visitors, and the they’re eagerly exploring their enclosure.
“They are actually learning to jump as far as they can,” Brown says. “We kind of kept them in another place that was a little less high, a little less exciting. You’ll notice they’re starting to fly from branch to branch and they’re adjusting great. And the public has not been a problem. We were a little concerned about that and they are doing wonderful. And they’re enjoying watching all the kids and the visitors.”
Lemurs are endemic to the island of Madagascar; there are about 100 species. The new ones at the zoo are black-and-white ruffed lemurs, which are critically endangered in the wild. Brown says she hopes the exhibit helps education zoo visitors about conservation efforts.
“The black-and-white ruffed lemurs captured my heart,” Brown says of her job. “I think it’s just their overall fun-ness of life. They really are typically a very active, high-end social group, and I just love working with them. The story of them only being found in the island of Madagascar — conservation is very important to me, and that’s a great message to do. These guys really need our help. Their habitat is just being destroyed so we just need to make some attention to that.” Deforestation and poaching have contributed to a drop in population for black-and-white ruffed lemurs.
Three of the four lemur babies are male (Theodore, Lincoln and Quincy; the female lemur is named Madison). The lemurs’ mom, Kiaka, is actually very important to the lemur breeding program nationwide. Her genes are not represented at other zoos in the country, so she can add some diversity into the gene pool. “Her babies are very genetically valuable and they’ll get to go on and live nice happy lives and have lots of kids themselves,” Brown says. Since they’re a nesting animal, Lemurs can have up to five babies at a time.
“There’s a thing called species survival plan,” Brown says. “They kind of regulate who breeds with who, when and how much, in the zoo world. They call them the eHarmony or Match.com of the zoo world. And they rate based on genetics. And, our mom, based on her parents, is not very represented in zoos. So she’s actually very important because her genes aren’t common. It’s just her. So we need to make sure that we’re able to keep our gene pool nice and clean for future generations.”
Once the weather gets nicer, the four baby lemurs will be eased into Zoo 360, an animal trail exploration system that gives animals a chance to get out and move. “Our zoo is very small, we don’t have the space for a lot of yards,” Brown says. “So this allows all the primates that don’t have yard to be able to get our and run. And in the wild they’re constantly moving, searching for food, getting exercise, running from predators, so it kind of can fill that niche that they need.”