Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Duke Lemur Center - a bit more time for Titus, the last Golden-crowned sifaka

Tuesday morning it looked like Titus, Duke Lemur Center's last remaining Golden-crowned sifaka (Propithicus tattersalli) would need to be put down. Titus is 25 years old. That is aged for a sifaka, and he had undergone major surgery a little over a year ago to remove a large tumor. The tumor was back, and Titus has stopped eating. He sat hunched in his personal habitat - quiet, listless.

Titus is special to everyone at the Duke Lemur Center. He was wild-caught in 1993. The DLC has been his home the last 15 years. Like most lemurs, Golden-crowns are social. They usually live in groups - with five being the average group size. But Golden-crown sifaka are highly endangered. Titus is the last of his kind in captivity, and frighteningly few remain in the wild.

This is one thing that makes Titus important. His personality was another. As a social creature, who is the last of his kind in captivity, Titus was allowed more human contact than usual. We try to help our animals maintain their wild natures. They are not pets. But they are loved. And Titus is easy to love.

Once the decision was made that Tuesday would need to be Titus's last day, everyone trooped in one by one to say good-bye. That day it would be okay, even encouraged to scratch Titus under his arm - his favorite kind of contact. Although he was clearly ailing, he raised that little arm and seemed content as the people who had cared for him daily for 15 years said good-bye. There was not a dry eye in the house.

But this story has a happy ending - for the time being. The last Golden-crowned sifaka in captivity got a bit more time. The Duke Lemur Center vets decided it was in Titus's best interest to try removing the new tumor - despite his advanced age and frail condition. It worked. Titus survived the operation, woke from the anesthesia, and is resting comfortably. We know his time is limited. He is old. He is ill. But for today, Titus has a bit more time.

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