Friday, August 28, 2009

Lemurs, finger paints, and lots of mess!

By Lori Mears, Primate Technician

As primate technicians here at the Duke Lemur Center, we find ourselves charged with the mission of ensuring not only the physical health but also all other aspects of the well-being of the lemurs under our care. This is where we get to be truly creative, in the lemur world, it is called enrichment. Enrichment can be a great many things. It can be hammocks and ice treats (as Niki blogged about earlier). It can be new things to smell or taste or touch. Primate technicians have many, many options to provide enrichment opportunities for the lemurs. We simply have to be a bit creative, and use the knowledge we have about our animals to find ways to make their lives more interesting.

So, you ask “where is all this going”? Lemur art!

The process of painting with a lemur is a lot like painting with a small child. Really messy (for the lemurs and the technicians), but the product is amazing. First you need non-toxic finger paints, a big sheet (to contain the mess a bit), a canvas, a bag of lemur treats, and a willing participant. Then, the fun begins. After fifteen minutes of walking, sniffing, and scratching, we have lemur art! Painting allows us to give the lemurs a unique experience. The feeling of paint between the toes, the smells, the colors, the springiness of a canvas, all these things provide mental stimulation(and fun!) to the lemurs, keeping their minds working and ours as well. My favorite experience is painting with aye-ayes in the dark. The colors all look like shades of black in the dark and you have no idea what it will look like until after you leave. It’s always a great surprise.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, we actually have some of their art for sale in the gift shop, and you can have the opportunity to own your very own piece of lemur history. After all, how many people can say that painting on their wall was made by a lemur?

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