A common question on zoo grounds over the last year has been, “Where are the lemurs?” They are currently living behind the scenes, waiting patiently for their new exhibits in Africa Rocks to be built. While few people are currently able to visit them, guests may occasionally hear the distinct calls of red ruffed lemurs that fill the air several times a day. These striking red and black creatures are among the largest in the lemur family—and also among the loudest.
The San Diego Zoo has a successful history of breeding red ruffed lemurs; in fact, we’ve had over 100 born since 1965. We can attribute this success to the Primate Propagation Center, a facility specifically designed for breeding lemurs. The center is where most of our prosimians are currently being housed, and also where the most recent member of our lemur family was born.
On May 18, 2016, our red ruffed lemur Morticia gave birth to her first offspring. It has been 13 years since the last red ruffed lemur was born at San Diego Zoo, and excitement is in the air.
This rare species is included in Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature SSC Primate Specialist Group, and every birth of a red ruffed lemur is a critically important one. They are only found in one region in the entire world: the Masoala Peninsula in Madagascar. Needless to say, the San Diego Zoo primate team is excited to welcome this little one to the world.
Morticia is a first-time mom, but she has proven to be a great mother. For the first week after the birth, it was important for keepers to get daily weights on the infant, to make sure he was gaining weight. A rising weight indicates that the baby is successfully nursing and that mom is taking good care of him. Morticia is willing to let keepers borrow her infant in exchange for some of her favorite fruits, but she is eager to get him back.
He has been gaining about one-third of an ounce (10 grams) a day and is getting more active and aware of his surroundings. Although he currently weighs only 6.6 ounces (188 grams), red ruffed lemur babies grow up fast. During his first month, we expect him to be exploring outside of his nest, with Morticia watching closely.
You can look forward to seeing our red ruffed family—and the rest of our amazing lemurs—when Africa Rocks opens in summer 2017.
Kristen Watkins is a primate keeper at the San Diego Zoo