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Lemurs move into new exhibit

By Gheni_Platenburg
Jan. 29, 2011 at 9:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 28, 2011 at 7:29 p.m.

Primate Keeper Allison Cook feeds a treat to Mart the Lemur in his newly constructed home at the Texas Zoo.

LEMUR FACTSSPECIES: Lemurs are small primates known as "prosimians," which, roughly translated, means "pre-primates" or "before monkeys."

Lemurs resemble the oldest ancestors of primates, which existed tens of millions of years ago. Exact classification of some types of lemurs is a subject of debate, but it's generally accepted that there are five families of lemurs with about a dozen genera and just over 30 living species. Some species of lemurs are now extinct, including one ancient lemur said to be as large as a gorilla - more than 400 pounds. Some prosimian species contain a number of subspecies, all with distinct characteristics, which brings the total types of living lemurs to around 50.

HABITAT: Lemurs are found only in Madagascar and the neighboring Comores Islands. They live in a variety of habitats. Some live in moist, tropical rainforests, while others live in dry desert areas.

COMMUNICATION: Lemurs use their sense of smell to communicate with each other. These primates have scent glands on their bottoms and on their feet that leave odors on surfaces they cross. When other lemurs pass by, they smell those odors and can tell that another lemur has been there. Lemurs have big, bushy tails that they wave in the air as another form of communication. These big tails also help lemurs balance when they leap from tree to tree.

DIET: Lemurs usually have a vegetarian diet, consisting of leaves and fruit, although they will occasionally eat insects or smaller animals.

SOURCE: www.thewildones.org/Animals/lemur.html and www.lemurs.us/basics.html

It was moving day for the Texas Zoo's four lemurs.

The lemurs - Ringo, Star, Mart and Bright Eyes - have been living in holding and quarantine areas since September, when their old exhibit was destroyed by a falling tree.

"I'm literally ecstatic," said Andrea Blomberg, executive director of the zoo. "We can get them back on exhibit for the general public in a comfortable and more improved environment than they were in before."

After the lemurs' old exhibit was destroyed, the zoo made plans to create a larger, more energy efficient and more animal and keeper friendly exhibit that would house not only the lemurs, but also the spider monkeys and tamarins, forming the new small primate exhibit.

Zoo staff and community service workers began work on the small primate dwelling, which is situated in the same location as the old lemur exhibit, in November.

Although the estimated $18,000 exhibit is not yet ready for all its new inhabitants, the lemur and tamarin areas are finished and move-in ready.

Zoo staff released the animals into their new habitat Friday afternoon, as zoo visitors and the nearby baboon neighbors looked on curiously.

"It's pretty neat," said 38-year-old Ticia Wertman. "I'm just happy to see them in the big area again."

Upon release from their travel cages, the new residents moved quickly, jumping from branch to branch and marking their territory.

"The (lemurs) could smell their scent in the dirt from where they were before," Jan Dunaway, the zoo's curator, said about the lemurs. "They are living the good life now."

The new exhibit features bedrooms made from treated pine with cedar shingles, as well as built-in heaters, which will eliminate the need for heat lamps in cold weather.

The animals' new home also features fresh water sources, umbrella grass and climbing fixtures.

In coming months, Blomberg said the spider monkeys' habitat will be completed, as well as the landscaping.

Also shade sails and educational placards, which will detail facts about its residents, are all planned as future additions to the exhibit.

"I like it a bunch," said 6-year-old Victoria resident Koen Wertman, as he pointed to his favorite ring-tailed lemur. "I like the one messing with the grass."

Although moving day was a happy occasion, zoo staff remained saddened over the fact that Molly, one of the zoo's longtime lemurs, died before the small primate exhibit could re-open.

"It's like losing a family member when you make a big move in life, and they can't be with you," Blomberg said about the 24-year-old black and white lemur that passed away in early November. "If you believe in an animal heaven, I'm sure she's up there looking down."

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for the exhibit's grand re-opening.

A date has not been set yet.

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