Paignton Zoo has welcomed a new species – the wonderfully-named gentle lemur. There’s more than a little of the teddy bear about them, with their thick, grey-brown fur and beady amber eyes. The babies are said to be especially cute – and the zoo certainly hopes to see babies in due course.
The gentle lemur – more correctly, the Alaotran gentle lemur - is the only primate that lives entirely in marshy habitat. In the wild it can be found in reed beds around Lake Alaotra, in north east Madagascar.
But why the name? Are they really gentle? It depends who you ask. Gentle lemurs are in the genus Hapalemur, from the Greek word meaning "gentle". In terms of animal care, however, keepers know that they can be feisty individuals. Curator of Mammals Lisa Britton: “Female Rosie has come all the way from Shaldon Wildlife Trust, and is known to be pretty gentle and laid back. The male is from Hungary. We don’t know quite what sort of character he is!”
Because the female is called Rosie, the male has been named Jim after the characters in the children’s TV series Rosie and Jim.
Paignton Zoo is already home to three species of lemur, but the pair will not be joining the ring-tailed lemurs, red fronted lemurs and red-ruffed lemurs in Lemur Wood. Lisa explains: “They can be difficult to mix with other lemurs. Coming from marshy areas, they also have a different diet, so they’re going on the island that was once home to swamp monkeys.”
There are only a few of this species in the UK. All individual Alaotran gentle lemurs remain under the official control of the Madagascan government. “This is a milestone on the road to recovery after two years of TB restrictions,” said Senior Head Keeper of Mammals Rob Rouse: “We were unable to move mammal species in or out of Paignton Zoo. It takes time to get going again and to bring in new animals – it’s not a simple process. People have been supportive and understanding, and we want to thank everyone locally and from further afield.”
Currently, there are 78 individual Alaotran gentle lemurs in European collections. Lisa again: “They are a wonderful species, not as well-known as the ringtail lemur, but definitely worthy of conservation breeding efforts.”
The population of Alaotran gentle lemurs has been declining because of habitat destruction; the International Union for Conservation of Nature has rated it as Critically Endangered