DURHAM, N.C. -- Efforts to rescue a highly endangered species of lemur were dealt a setback with the death early Friday morning of the lemur known as Juliet, in a Madagascar zoological park where she was being acclimatized to captivity.
Despite continuing veterinary treatment, Juliet died Friday at 11 a.m. Madagascar time, or 3 a.m. EST. Duke University Primate Center officials said a necropsy of the animal did not reveal an apparent cause of death and that a male of her species captured at the same time remains healthy. The researchers plan further analyses of tissue samples to attempt to determine the cause of death.
She was a member of the species of acrobatic lemurs known as sifakas, and she was captured along with the male in an early October rescue expedition to Madagascar, led by Primate Center Director Ken Glander. Glander was seeking a mate for a lemur known as Romeo, a diademed sifaka who has been at the Primate Center for the last six years.
"We are deeply saddened by this sudden death," said Glander. "It is made all the more difficult by the fact that this species is being actively hunted for food in the small area where it is found. So, we urgently need to rescue a breeding population of these animals before they become extinct."
Glander also noted that the 600 acres of thick forest in which the animals live is rapidly being eaten away by timber-cutting and slash-and burn agriculture.
The death has prompted Glander and his colleagues to plan another rescue expedition to the area early this summer. Formerly, he had planned to return in October to continue the rescue operation.Sifakas are the largest living lemur and considered among the most beautiful of primates, with lush fur of yellow, orange, gray, white and black.
After capture of the two animals, they were transported to the Ivoloina Zoological Park in Madagascar, where they were being acclimatized to captivity over the next six months to a year. While the scientists at first believed the captured lemurs were diademed sifakas, upon closer examination of the animals' markings and body characteristics the researchers concluded that the animals might represent a previously unknown subspecies of lemur. DNA tests are now under way to confirm the possibility.
Captive breeding programs, such as the Duke Primate Center's, can rapidly replenish populations of animals. Because captured animals are well-fed and protected from disease and natural enemies, they can produce from five to 10 times more offspring that survive to adulthood than wild animals normally can, Primate Center primatologists say.
The Ivoloina Park is a combination lemur breeding facility, zoo, education center and tourist attraction developed over the past decade by the Primate Center's husband-and-wife team, primatologists Charles Welch and Andrea Katz.The Duke Primate Center houses the world's largest collection of endangered primates. Duke is also the only university-operated center that concentrates solely on studying and protecting prosimians, such as lemurs, lorises and galagoes. The center is supported by the National Science Foundation, private donations and Duke University.
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