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Baby Lemurs a Welcome Addition to Santa Barbara Zoo

The boy and girl join the zoo's other black and white ruffed lemurs, an endangered species covered under a regional survival plan.


A pair of highly endangered black and white ruffed lemurs have been born at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

On April 15, keepers found one female and one male offspring in a nest box with their mother inside their exhibit’s holding area. Keepers confirmed nursing and proper maternal care, and the young lemurs were examined by veterinary staff. The lemurs remained in the holding area nest for their first week, but are now being moved around the exhibit by their mother.

The same pair of adult black and white ruffed lemurs had litters in three of the past four years. The parents, who arrived at the zoo in November 2004, had twin males in May 2005, then a male and a female were born April 3, 2007. All of the previous offspring are in the exhibit with their parents and the new babies.

“As with many of our species here at the zoo, black and white lemurs are a part of a regional zoo management program called a Species Survival Plan, coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums,” said Alan Varski, the zoo’s director of animal programs and conservation.

“Our experienced lemur mother delivered just as anticipated based on our prenatal care. This adds two more members to our now very dynamic family group of eight lemurs."

All species of lemurs, endemic to the island of Madagascar, are endangered in the wild. The Species Survival Plan, a scientifically based managed breeding program, acts as a hedge against extinction by maintaining a healthy and self-sustaining population that is genetically diverse and demographically stable. Currently, 113 survival plans covering 181 species are administered by the AZA, whose membership includes accredited zoos and aquariums throughout North America.  The Santa Barbara Zoo participates in 20 of the survival plans.

Black and white ruffed lemurs were the species featured on the Santa Barbara Zoo’s logo for nearly 20 years as it was the first survival plan species to reproduce at the zoo. Fifteen black and white ruffed lemurs have been born at the zoo, including the new offspring. The zoo also has four female and one male ring-tailed lemurs. Ring-tailed lemurs also have been recommended for breeding under the lemur survival plan.

Black and white ruffed lemurs are one of two subspecies of ruffed lemur, the other being the red ruffed lemur. Its natural habitat is primarily the rain forests of Madagascar. Red ruffed lemurs eat fruits, seeds, leaves and nectar, and their food passes though their digestive system in as little as two hours.  They reach sexual maturity at about 20 months, gestation is 90 to 120 days, and they can have one litter per year.

Ruffed lemur babies do not cling to their parents but are carried in the parent’s mouth.  The female is the caretaker, with the male keeping his distance until the female allows him to interact with the babies. They will be weaned at about 90 days old.

The Santa Barbara Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Click here for more information.

Julia McHugh is a public relations representative of the Santa Barbara Zoo.

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