The Lemurs

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In 2008, my first year working at the Biodiome, there was an exhibition of animals from Madagascar. There were: a habitat with five ring-tailed lemurs in which visitors could enter and see them up close, fish tanks containing endemic fish, manta rays, Madagascar boas, panther chameleons, geckos and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.


Madagascar has an interesting wildlife, with a large number of unique animals–among them 90 different species of lemurs. Lemurs are primates, but they are not apes but prosimians, which are the first primates ever to appear on planet Earth.


I spent all that summer and the next one explaining these details to the public. The exhibition continued the following year, with the addition of a show on Madagascar’s biodiversity. I hosted the little show three times a day approximately, explaining from memory and in 20 minutes the life of lemurs, aye-ayes and others.


When fall was approaching and I had more free time, we–another primate lover and I– decided to travel in order to increase our knowledge on the subject of the lemurs. However, we didn’t travel to Madagascar (which I hope to visit eventually) but to the second place on the planet most inhabited by lemurs: The Duke Lemur Center, at the Duke University, North Carolina in the U.S.A.


With the help of a secretary from the Center, we organized things so that we could spend two nights at the researchers’ cabin and travelled in my friend’s car. Since it was so far away from Montreal, on our way there we visited the downtown area of Philadelphia and spent the night in an inn there.


On our way back to Montreal, we rested in Baltimore and visited the National Aquarium and the port area. The visit at the Centre was very interesting. We were able to talk to the researchers and caretakers as well as the guide. While it’s definitely a research centre, they only experiments that don’t affect animals’ well-being and health; for example, behaviour and diet studies.


Everything takes place in the outmost respect of the living creatures. Some animals are loose in the big woods that circle the Centre while some others are in cages. These have a great deal of improvement to do so they try to let them out as much as possible. My friend and I could walk in the woods with the lemurs of different species jumping around us and see them going from tree to tree from our cabin.


We could also enter the habitat of the aye-ayes and other nocturnal lemurs, which lived in an opposite environment created by the Center, so that it would be easy taking care of them. For us, it was daytime, but for them, it was nighttime so they were up.


At that period, there was the famous problem of H1N1 virus or swine flu. Therefore we had to wear a mask to protect the Centre’s unique group of primates and could not touch them. Our guide made only one exception, she let us pet a diademed sikafa from the other side of bars. That one was the only one in the world in captivity and liked to be in contact with people. It shared its cage with a female sikafa but from another species.


We were told that group of prosimians was very important for various reasons. In Madagascar, there is only 10% of native forest left, and the majority of the species face a grave danger of extinction. Having an important group of these animals in the United States allows us to give them a minimum of safety by protecting them even though they don’t live in their native country. From a biological point of view, they’re very brave animals that split from African apes millions of years ago and have behavioural and physical traits that are very distinct.


Back in Montreal, we finished our jobs at the exhibition and see our lemur friends differently. These animals then left for other zoos in the country. I ended up contracting the infamous H1N1 virus at work, with three other guides and spent a whole week in bed, and more than a month with a horrible cough… that’s life for you. Every phase has its own good and bad moments…


Next step, see lemurs, sikafas, indris and aye-ayes in their natural habitat!


Author: Helena Arroyo

Amelie Delobel

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