Lemurs, leopards and more…

November 11, 2009 § 1 Comment

Things are getting quieter and quieter at Edinburgh Zoo right now, but that makes it a great time to see the animals, as they enjoy the comfort of the relaxed winter months. Here’s what has been going on this week.

We are pleased to announce that five red-bellied lemurs have now arrived safely at Edinburgh Zoo and can be viewed in the monkey house. The new group consists of two males, 1 female and 2 immature lemurs of unknown sex. Spotting the female is easy as this species is sexual dichromatic (meaning males look different to the females). Females have a white belly, whereas males sport a reddish-brown coloured belly, giving rise to this species name.

Red-bellied lemurs typically live in small, monogamous family groups of up to 10 individuals. They are seasonal breeders and in their native Madagascar, they would be expected to give birth to one offspring during September or October (the start of the Madagascan summer). However, when living in captivity, in the northern hemisphere, we would expect their breeding activity to alter to fit our seasons. They are therefore expected to breed in January or February, and to give birth in April or May. We have our fingers crossed for the pitter patter of tiny lemur feet next year! This is especially important for this vulnerable species whose wild population is currently decreasing as a result of habitat loss and hunting.

The gorgeous (and rather inquisitive!) red-bellied lemur

The gorgeous (and rather inquisitive!) red-bellied lemur

A youngster explores its new enclosure

A youngster explores its new enclosure

Two mongoose lemurs have also arrived safely and are currently housed in the walkthrough lemur enclosure, next to the Chilean flamingos. This breeding pair will share the outdoor walk-through exhibit with our red-fronted lemurs, before eventually moving into the old ring-tailed lemur enclosure with the red-bellied lemurs. The ring-tailed lemurs are currently still resident at the zoo, and as a result, this enclosure has not yet come available. The ring-tailed lemurs are expected to leave, but it is unlikely to be at any point in the immediate future, as all the arrangements for their big move still have to be made.

Finally, on the primate front, a yellow-breasted capuchin male arrived safely to Edinburgh Zoo last week, and our old male, Fabio, was safely transported to his new home. ‘Little Man’ has settled in well with his new social group and can be viewed in the Monkey House. He was mixed in with the resident monkeys the day after his big move, and was reportedly seen mating shortly afterwards! Gestation is around 6 months long for this critically endangered species, and so with any luck we may be welcoming some baby capuchins in to the world next summer! Watch this space!

He may not be a looker, but Little Man is already a hit with the ladies!

He may not be a looker, but Little Man is already a hit with the ladies!

If you are passing by the Mansion House any time soon there will be plenty of animals to look out for, including the red river hog piglets and the pygmy hippo youngster! However, one enclosure which is unlikely to see any activity over the next few months is the European sousliks enclosure. This species is now deep in hibernation (I don’t blame them personally!). They typically take to their underground tunnels from September to March, after building up fat supplies in the summer. Unlike many other ground squirrels, European sousliks do not stock-pile food but must rely on doubling their body mass in order to see them through the long winter. They remain mostly inactive during hibernation in order to minimize energy use. They also lower their metabolic rate to a bare minimum by slowing their heart rate and breathing rate, and allowing their body temperature to drop dramatically. Research suggests that some hibernating ground squirrels may allow their abdominal temperatures to drop below freezing point for more than three weeks at a time (and survive)! However, temperatures at the head and neck always remain above 0ºC in order to maintain brain function, and ensure survival! They must also rouse themselves sporadically, in order to warm up and restore their body temperature to a normal level.

Following the end of their hibernation early next spring, keepers will finally be able to find out if the ground squirrels had any success in breeding this year. Due to their secretive nature, and under-ground living conditions, it is impossible for keepers to monitor their numbers at any other time of year. However, once hibernation ends, they will be ready for a good meal, providing the keepers with the perfect opportunity to lure them all out of their burrows and take stock of the group.

The European souslik has lost a significant part of its habitat and has disappeared from many places within its former range. Currently a reintroduction project for which zoos provide animals is being undertaken in Poland. It is therefore important that we keep and breed this species, despite their low value as a visitor attraction!

Holed up for the winter!

Holed up for the winter!

Another zoo resident that is seeing some seasonal changes at the moment is the Amur leopard. This critically endangered carnivore, native to the Amur valley in Russia, grows a thicker coat in winter to help it cope with extremely cold temperatures. Their coat can grow up to 7cm long at this time of year providing them with super insulation against temperatures which can drop as low as -20ºC! Their coat is also paler in colour in winter, an adaptation to help them camouflage in a snowy environment. In comparison, their summer coat grows to just 2.5cm long and is a much deeper red-yellow colour.

This seasonal change is crucial if the Amur leopards are to survive in this harsh environment. Unfortunately, it is estimated that there are only around 30 wild Amur leopards left. One might expect that this would lead to great conservation efforts focused on saving this species, but unfortunately, many Amur leopards still face threats such poaching, habitat loss and persecution.

Just recently news of more troubles for the Amur leopards made headlines, as an emergency situation was declared in a nature reserve which is thought to hold half of all the remaining individuals for this species. Funds to this reserve have been frozen for the last five months, leaving reserve staff without pay or resources. Many staff have now been forced to stop working, and even those who have offered to work voluntarily are able to do very little as there are no funds for fuel for their patrol vehicles. Patrols are necessary to protect the reserve from fires and poachers. This is especially alarming as the fire season has already started. The first fire was observed on the 8th October and it is expected that many more will occur before the first snowfall arrives.

Conservation organizations have offered financial assistance, but the reserve management believes that the government should provide funding for wages and basic necessities. These organizations are now working hard to shorten the prolonged bureaucratic process which has led to the lack of government funds. In the mean time we can only hope that the Amur leopard population survive yet another blow.

For more information on Amur leopards in the wild please visit: http://www.amur-leopard.org/

Zane, our female Amur leopard looks non too pleased with the recent news

Zane, our female Amur leopard looks non too pleased with the recent news


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