Monday, August 3, 2009
by Tech Laura
Why have baby lemurs? Because they’re CUTE! But, seriously, why breed all these lemur babies? There’s only so much space in the center so why breed more? What other purpose (besides joy) could baby lemurs have in this world?
All lemur species are endangered. In Madagascar, some species stand closer to the brink of extinction than others; but every kind of lemur is threatened in some way. Madagascar is already about 80 percent deforested and is losing trees as we speak. Losing habitats means losing lemurs.
So, the Duke Lemur Center breeds endangered lemurs to provide a genetic safety net for the lemurs of Madagascar. But where will we put them all? Well, the DLC works with other facilities in the zoo community to not only exchange adults of breeding age to keep the genetic variation of lemur families strong, but to house and care for the families we create. Each year a list of recommended breeding pairs, which take into account the genetic importance of the parents as well as space that is available to house the offspring, is generated by the Population Managers for each lemur species. This way we can be sure that only the most important lemurs breed, and that they will always be plenty of space to house them and their offspring.
In addition, future reintroduction of lemurs to the wild is a dream we all share. The Betampona project, where black and white ruffed lemurs born and raised at the Lemur Center (and other institutions) were "returned" to Madagascar for reintroduction during the years 1997-2000, is the only time this has been accomplished. In the meantime, the DLC is working on the ground in Madagascar to help create parks like Ivoloina for lemurs and people. The DLC works with the Madagascar Fauna Group to assist the people of Madagascar as they learn about their own resources and how to get the most out of what they have now while still saving resources for their children. (Go to our web page and read more about MFG and Ivoloina and conservation.)
Conservation is a major goal of the Duke Lemur Center. So are research and education. Right now our researchers are asking important questions like what is the advantage to standing upright and what does it cost to walk that way? How are decisions made? How is risk assessed? Does chemistry really play a big role in who is attracted to whom? Could scent convey genetic fitness? (Those good scents would make even better sense!). Studying lemurs might give us these answers and more.
So, yes, lemurs are beautiful, adorable, and cute. They are also biological treasures that the Duke Lemur Center is working hard to study and to protect.