Duke Lemur Center is saddened to announce the death of Titus, an approximately 25-year-old, wild-caught male golden-crowned sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli) from cancer. At the time of his death, Titus was the only reported golden-crowned sifaka in captivity anywhere in the world, and he was the last of the ten golden-crowned sifakas imported from Madagascar by the Lemur Center in the 1980s and 90s (two pairs were imported in November 1987, two pairs were imported in July, 1988, and one pair (including Titus) was imported in July 1993.
The golden-crowned sifaka was first discovered by western scientists in 1974 when Ian Tattersall photographed and described it in Northern Madagascar, thinking at the time that it was a subspecies of Propithecus diadema. When the Lemur Center first imported two pairs in 1987, they were still thought to be a subspecies of P. diadema, but Duke Lemur Center Director Elwyn Simons made the astonishing discovery that the golden-crowned sifaka was an entirely new species, and he named it after Ian Tattersal in a paper introducing it to the scientific world in 1988.
Of the ten wild-caughts imported, six died after less than one year in captivity. The four animals which survived longer than one year lived for five, six, fifteen (Titus) and eighteen (Agrippa) years. One of the wild-caught females was pregnant when imported and her infant, who had to be hand-raised, lived for three years. Three infants were born from the captive conceptions, two of these survived less than a year, but one (Valens) survived for nine years.
At one point, the golden-crowned sifaka was classified as one of the top twenty five most endangered primates in the world and considered to be one of the most endangered of all the lemurs, due to the animals' very small home range and the fact that this range was totally unprotected and highly vulnerable to slash and burn by local villagers and gold miners. The current conservation status of the golden-crowned sifaka is much more secure thanks to the establishment of a 20,000 ha reserve through the efforts of Conservation International and a Malagasy non-governmental organization, Association Fanamby. Ten percent of this area is protected.
In a sad twist of fate, it was thought that the female that Titus had been imported into the country with, Mesillina, might be closely related to him, so she (the only female in captivity) was taken from Titus and paired with another male, Agrippa. Poor Titus was left to live by himself. Although we originally had permits to import two more pairs of golden-crowned sifakas from Madagascar, this never happened, so Titus never had a prayer of being paired with a female golden-crowned sifaka.
However, he did have a few blissful months living with a Coquerel's sifaka female, Drusilla and a Diademed sifaka male, Romeo. He was successfully introduced to this odd couple in January 1995, and this spectacular mixed species group (representing all three of the recognized species of sifaka) lived together until August 1996, when Drusilla became unexpectedly aggressive towards Romeo. After Drusilla was removed, Romeo and Titus continued to live as a mixed species bachelor pair until January 2002, when they started squabbling. Fearing escalating aggression between the two males, they were separated, and Titus (and Romeo) lived the rest of their days alone.
There were several more attempts to introduce Titus to other species of lemurs so he would not have to live a solitary life, including an attempt in March 2004 to introduce him to a neighboring pair of mongoose lemurs, an attempt in December 2005 to introduce him to a male red-fronted lemur, and an attempt in January 2006 to introduce him to another golden-crowned sifaka male (Valens.) Alas, all these introductions ended in failure.
However, through all his years of living alone, Titus had many human admirers. Single animals get a lot of attention here, especially if they are as needy, as friendly, and as charming toward human attention as Titus was. Technicians would drop by his cage continually during the day to offer him a head scratch or a small treat. He never lacked for company!
In January 2008, a mass was discovered in Titus's abdomen; he went into surgery 31 January, 2008 and a large mass the size of a racquetball was removed from his abdomen. He recovered nicely and lived peacefully for almost a year in a large outdoor cage visited daily by a constant stream of friends, admirers, and well wishers.
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To read about Titus in the News and Observer, click here.