Friday, January 9, 2009

Trajan - last of the wild-caughts

Trajan, a much loved Coquerel's sifaka
The Duke Lemur Center lost another venerable founder last week, when Trajan, a Coquerel's sifaka imported from Madagascar in 1984 and estimated to be 29 years old (quite elderly for a sifaka,) passed away. Trajan was the last surviving wild-caught Coquerel's sifaka from a group of 11 (5 males and 6 females) imported from Madagascar on three dates: 1982, 1984, and 1986. The Coquerel's sifaka importation was a great success story, and the contribution these wild-caught animals have made to the captive gene pool (along with Nigel, a captive-born animal) account for the total of today's captive population of 44 animals residing at the Lemur Center and at six American zoos.
Trajan and Cornelia
Trajan made more than his fair contribution to the captive gene pool, siring 18 offspring (8 of which are still living) with three different mates (Cornelia, Marcella, and Paulina,) 40 grandchildren (20 of which are still living) and two great grand offspring. Hence, 28 of the 44 living Coquerel's sifaka in captivity are closely related to Trajan! On the day that Trajan died, his daughter, Pia, gave birth to grandchild number 40.
Along with being one of the most prolific lemurs in Lemur Center history, Trajan led one of the most interesting lives. He and his mate Cornelia, were the first sifakas introduced into a Natural Habitat Enclosure (NHE) when they were released into NHE1 in July 1986. The pair lived in NHE 1 & 3 for much of the following nine years and produced nine offspring before Cornelia's death in May 1995.

In July 1991, Trajan became desperately ill and nearly died. The veterinary staff worked tirelessly to save him, and when he recovered the vets wrote, "Trajan has recovered from his illness, but blood work shows his liver to be in terrible shape. Because of his weak nature (probably due to old age,) he will be kept inside and not returned to a natural habitat enclosure." But Trajan did recover fully, and his obvious health convinced the vets to change their minds. He had returned to the forest of NHE3 within a year, continuing to spend most summers free ranging for the next thirteen years!
After Cornelia's death in the spring of 1995, Trajan was introduced to a new mate, Marcella and her young son, Nero, in NHE 6 in August of 1995. Marcella and Trajan had four offspring and spent their summers in NHE 6 until he was removed from Marcella's group in 1999 and introduced to Paulina and her offspring (Antonia, Phillip, and Zeno) in September of 2000. Paulina and Trajan had five offspring and lived together (spending summers in NHE 3) until August of 2004, when Paulina was sent to the Sacramento Zoo. It was during this period that Trajan demonstrated that he was not only capable of siring offspring, but that he was good at caring for them too, a somewhat unusual trait for a sifaka male.

Coquerel's sifaka infants are born in mid winter, and by the time Paulina/Trajan's group was moved from their winter cages to the forests of the natural habitat enclosure, the youngsters would be anywhere from four to six months old, well on their way towards weaning and independence. However, a largely independent five-month-old infant, when introduced to a new environment (such as a forested enclosure) generally becomes somewhat anxious and wants to return to the security of his/her mother. So suddenly, the juveniles will jump on Mom's back and want to be transported everywhere, when they are actually capable of getting around under their own power (sort of like teenagers.)

Trajan and offspring
Hence, when Trajan and Paulina's group were introduced into the forest in the springtime, there inevitably would be a youngster who suddenly wanted to start riding his/her mom's back again. But Paulina, not the most patient of mothers, would have none of it, and would nip at the juvenile until he/she jumped off. The juvenile would then, of course, be terrified, clinging petrified and stranded on a tree in this unknown forest, while the group, led by Paulina, moved off. Every year, however, the gentle Trajan would come to the stranded juvenile's rescue and allow him/her to ride his back for the entire day until the group was back inside for the night. The whole scenario was repeated the next day and the next for a week or two. I will never forget the sight of the 20-something Trajan patiently carrying a juvenile at least half his weight, making jumps and climbing trees as the group moved through the woods.

Trajan was wonderful with his own offspring and with females and very young male offspring of other males, but once unrelated offspring in his group got to be a certain age, Trajan would not so gently "encourage" them to seek new territory. During his life, he forcibly ejected Nero and Zeno from his new family groups at a much younger age than they would normally be ejected. After all, he was no saint, and this is standard male sifaka protocol.

Alas, this macho male sifaka attitude towards other males finally caught up with Trajan when in August of 2008, his four-year-old son, Maximus, attacked him, severing his Achilles tendon. Trajan was helpless under this assault (not only was he a frail almost 30-year-old, he had also long since lost most of his teeth.) Although the staff of the DLC quickly came to his rescue, it was the beginning of the end for Trajan. He spent his final days housed alone - but never lacking for human company and admiration.

Post and photos by David Haring

1 comment:

  1. Thank you David. This is a wonderful story, and a lot less sad because of all of Trajan's offspring!