Monday, June 29, 2009

Lazy Summer Days at Duke Lemur Center

by Nichol Barnett, Primate Technician
Here at the Lemur Center during the hot summer months the employees aren’t the only ones reaching for their Gatorade and taking a quick break in a shady spot! During a tour one may notice the lemurs are not quite as active as they are in the cooler months. With the hot temperatures comes less lemur activity. Being a technician (and a lemur) here at the DLC in the summer months can be a challenge. We are constantly watching over our furry friends to ensure that they are as comfortable as possible during the hot summer days. We provide them with shady areas, fans, and ice bottles to cool themselves down. While these months can be challenging, they can also lead to creativity and fun. We technicians are constantly coming up with new flavors and types of “lemur pops” and designing hammocks for lounging. We are glad to see that our efforts do not go unnoticed and seem greatly appreciated by our charges! If you get a chance to come by for a tour this summer look up to see if you can spot some lemurs lounging in their hammocks enjoying their icy treats!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Raising Dan Akroyd - at Duke Lemur Center

by Tech Laura
I returned from Rome to find that I would be taking care of Dan Akroyd. At least until he was well enough to go live with his father, who had moved next door to keep him company.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. It all starts with Akroyd’s mother, Jody Foster. Last October, she got together with Akroyd’s father, Lawrence Olivier, and was lucky enough to conceive. Since she is a teenage mother, there is still hope that she and Olivier can have a large family. You see, blue eyed black lemurs are endangered and, being a delicate subspecies of lemur, appear to have some difficulties conceiving, and once they do, having the infants survive. Oh, have I confused you?

Let me clarify. Foster is a Eulemur macaco flavifrons, also known as a Blue-eyed black lemur, a subspecies of the common black lemur. Blue-eyed black lemurs have a striking appearance and are often domineering and high strung. These qualities, or maybe it’s just their eye color, are why the Lemur Center names them after starlets and movie stars. About the only thing our fiery red head Foster has in common with Jody Foster is that she is quite beautiful and has sparkling sky blue eyes. So, where does the “black lemur” part come in? Well, the males are all black, the females all reddish brown, and all of them have stunning blue or green eyes.

Now, back to raising Dan Akroyd. He is only half the blues brothers. Have I confused you again? Let me explain, Akroyd is a twin. You see, not only were Foster and Olivier a good match, they conceived twins! Yes, twin boys. This is a first for the Lemur Center. And for two months Foster was an extremely protective mother. She chased off Olivier, who had to find other living arrangements. She chased off me, even though I brought the food! All was going well, and at one month of age, the boys were christened Akroyd and Belushi – the blues brothers. Little Akroyd had (yes had, I’ll get to that…) beautiful green eyes and his brother little Belushi has (yes still has…) beautiful blue eyes.

Here’s where Rome comes in. I had a great vacation! Yes, techs get vacations too- the Coliseum, lemonchello…. but, when I came home, I found little Akroyd had been rejected by his mother. He had also received a very un-motherly bite wound to the side of his head. As a result, Akroyd had one green eye, and one black eye – sort of like his namesake (How foretelling that he would be named after an actor with one green eye and one brown). It didn’t seem to phase Akroyd. He soon adapted to living next to Olivier and eating non-stop room service. It takes only one needful glance from this little fella to fall head over heals in love. Why he was rejected at two months old is a mystery, a mystery that repeated itself only one week later.

And so it was that I came to be raising Dan Akroyd and one week later, Belushi as well. Again, Foster rejected her then only remaining son by biting him on the head. Why, I don’t know. Maybe two growing infants were too much for her. Belushi, and his head wound, moved in with Akroyd, and Olivier moved out. Akroyd was aloof at first, but Belushi continuously made endearing envoys of brotherly affection and the two soon bonded- again.

It seems wrong to profit from tragedy, but I can’t deny that I have. Now my days are filled with charm and sparkle as the boys grow. Each morning they greet me with sounds normally reserved for family. Sounds much like little motor cycles, whoomf, whoomf, whoomf, as they jump off their teddy bear looking to be fed and groomed. I mash their food, cook their vegetables, and mix their powdered milk twice a day. Each time, they climb onto the plate, all four feet, and gobble as fast as they can. They look up at me with over stuffed mouths and beautiful eyes full of trust. While they eat, I groom each one with a little tooth brush, first the back, then the sweet spot under each ear and finally the long wisp of a tail. There’s no hugging and holding allowed. The brothers must grow up knowing they are lemurs with proper behaviors so they can be ready to get along with future lemur girlfriends. I can tell you for certain that their charisma makes this very hard indeed.

Already time is marching on. They are growing fast and soon will move outside and grow ever more independent. Their father Olivier moved back in with Foster to try again this fall. Hopefully, they will have another infant next spring. I am hoping for a girl- just one. And I will be an outside observer again. But, I will always have my memories of raising Dan Akroyd and his brother Belushi - the blues brothers. And they will always be a special pair of lemurs no matter where they go from here. Whoomf, whoomf….

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lemurs - Preparing for breeding

If Tolkien looks hopeful (and remarkably appealing,) it's because he and Medusa are preparing to be prospective mates at the Philadelphia Zoo. For endangered species, such as aye-aye, keeping the gene pool vital is critical. So the Duke Lemur Center collaborates with other approved institutions around the world to carefully and purposefully breed these precious biological treasures. The breeding programs for each species are managed by a Species Survival Plan (SSP), coordinated through the American Zoological Association, which assures that genetic lines are kept viable (And you thought getting your dates past your parents was rough!)

Before Medusa and Tolkien can travel to their "romantic" rendezvous, they are receiving complete physicals by our Veterinary Department. When they reach Philadelphia, they will be in quarantine for a month (typical for all zoo to zoo shipments) to assure that no undetected diseases slip from one institution to the next.

The Species Survival Plans work both ways for the Lemur Center. June Bug, a Pygmy slow loris, just came to the Lemur Center to breed. June Bug is huge! As Lemur Veterinarian, Bobby Schoppler said, "It's like we got two for the price of one!" June Bug weighs considerably more than the average Pygmy slow loris, so Duke Lemur Center will work with her to get that weight down a bit - for her health's sake.

Then sometime in the next year or two, we should be reporting about brand new aye-aye and Pygmy slow loris infants. Good things - worth waiting for!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Duke Lemur Center - changing lives

Kizzy is a Black & white ruffed lemur and a stellar mom. She gave birth to triplets recently, but life is hard and one infant was still born. One was fit and healthy. One was clearly a runt. In the wild, the runt would have been doomed - not because Kizzy didn't mother properly. She worked hard to care for her infants. She held and groomed both babies and encouraged them to nurse. The runt would have been doomed because it was so weak. Kizzy would groom the tiny infant and try to guide it (as much as a lemur mothers can) towards her nipple to suckle. But the infant seemed to be too small and weak to locate the nipple and latch on to nurse, and it would tumble to the floor of Kizzy's nestbox looking pitiful and lost.

That is where the staff at the Duke Lemur Center stepped in - changing the course of the little runt's life. Two of the world's premier lemur veterinarians, Drs. Cathy Williams and Bobby Schoppler, both work at the Lemur Center. They laid out a course of care for the tiny black & white ruffed lemur. Primate technicians supplemented Kizzy's attempts to feed the infant. The technicians fed the baby around the clock (every two to three hours), returning the infant to Kizzy's care after every feeding, and helped the vets monitor progress. Hour after hour, day after day, Kizzy and a team of humans worked to change the outcome for a little lemur - and it worked!

The runt gradually began to hold its own, then to gain both weight and strength. The DLC staff could cut back on supplemental feeding, and Kizzy could continue what came naturally to her - to care for her babies. The folks at Duke Lemur Center changed the course of history for one little lemur.

It works the other way around also. These endangered species, who are incredible biological treasures,and who also happen to be irresistably engaging change the lives of many who encounter them. That is what happened for Dr. Anne Yoder, Director of the Duke Lemur Center. Here is Dr. Yoder's story.