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Texas Zoo undergoes makeover, rebuilds lemur exhibit among other renovations

By Gheni_Platenburg
Nov. 30, 2010 at 5:30 a.m.
Updated Dec. 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.

HOW TO HELPTo volunteer to help with the zoos reconstruction efforts, call 361-573-7681.

The zoo is giving away free pecan wood from trees cut down around the zoo. If you are interested in the wood, stop by the zoo during business hours Monday through Friday.

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.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The lemur is a kind of primate, which means it is related to apes and humans. There are many kinds of lemurs, but most have long, pointy noses, which contribute to their excellent sense of smell. Each type of lemur looks very different. They vary color from reddish brown to gray, and come in all different sizes, too. The smallest lemur, the pygmy mouse lemur, weighs only one ounce. But the biggest lemurs, the Indri and Diademed Sifaka lemurs, can weigh up to 15 pounds, which is about as much as a big cat. Unlike some other primates, lemurs do not have prehensile tails (they cannot hang by their tails from trees like monkeys) but they do have long, wet noses. Lemurs have a keen sense of smell and they also have good vision, even at night. Their thumbs and big toes are opposable, but they mainly use their teeth and an extended "toilet claw" on the second toe of their hind feet for grooming.

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.

HABITS: Most lemurs are arboreal, which means they spend most of their time in trees and bushes. They have a good grip for hanging on to branches. Only the ringtail lemur spends most of its time on the ground. Usually lemurs that are awake during the day live in groups. Besides using scent glands and tails to communicate, they also make noises. Nocturnal lemurs, that are active at night, tend to live alone.

REPRODUCTION AND REARING: When lemurs are born, they are carried in their mothers' mouths until they are old enough to hang on to her fur by themselves. Most lemurs live for about 18 years.

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

CONSERVATION & ECOLOGY: Of the 50 different kinds of lemurs, 10 types are critically endangered, seven are endangered, and 19 are considered vulnerable. Lemurs are threatened largely because their habitats are being destroyed and by hunting. However, all types of lemurs are protected by CITES, which makes it illegal hunt or capture lemurs for trade, except for scientific research, and to breed in zoos.


Big renovations are under way for the Texas Zoo, including a new and improved exhibit for the zoo's displaced lemurs.

Groundbreaking on the lemurs' new home, which was damaged by a fallen pecan tree in September, began on Nov. 16.

"It just seemed like the most logical thing to do. We didn't want to just rebuild the same exhibit," said Andrea Blomberg, executive director of the zoo. "We're just ecstatic."

The zoo received private and corporate donations to pay for the new lemur exhibit, which will cost around $18,000.

The new exhibit, which is expected to be more energy efficient and animal and keeper friendly than the old one, will include interpretive, educational opportunities. It will house not only the lemurs, but also the spider monkeys and tamarins, forming the new small primate exhibit.

It is expected to open in January.

Since the tree incident occurred, the two ring-tailed lemurs, two black and white lemurs and one red ruffed lemur had all been doing just fine living in holding and quarantine areas, said Blomberg.

However, zoo staff are still saddened over the loss of Molly, a 24-year-old black and white lemur who passed away in early November.

"It had nothing to do with where they are living right now. They have appropriate food, heat and space, everything they need. They are just not on display to the general public," said Blomberg, who said the average lifespan of lemurs is 26 years. "It was just her time."

Despite the back-to-back lemur tragedies, zoo staff has been busy turning negatives into positives by making major redesign changes throughout the zoo.

One of the largest changes will be reorganizing the animals by species, instead of the current geographic locations.

An owl and hawk exhibit, exotic bird exhibit, murals and lion den and education building expansions are also forthcoming in 2011.

"We've always got something else in the works," said Jan Dunaway, the zoo's curator. "We're already planning on more stuff."

Blomberg said the redesign aids the zoo in getting its Association of Zoos and Aquariums accreditation.

"It's like the stamp of approval that you can interact with other AZA zoos in trading animals, acquisitions, breeding programs and conservation programs," said Blomberg, who stressed that AZA accreditation is not mandatory, but helpful when it comes to the zoo fulfilling its mission.

The zoo is seeking skilled carpenters and laborers to volunteer with the current and upcoming projects.

"It's easier when we feel the community is supporting us," said Jay Gregston, zoo operations manager. "It makes us feel good inside when people come to provide help when we need it."



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