Tails From The Zoo

The Ghosts of Madagascar May 2, 2010

Filed under: Extinction Crisis,Primates,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 10:37 pm
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They go from completely motionless to full-out balls of boundless energy, bouncing from branch to branch in a split second. And a visit to the Assiniboine Park Zoo would not be complete without spending a little time at the Tropical House watching these prosimians parade through their exhibit with their tails held high.

Sadly though, the ghosts of the Madagascan forests are quickly living up to their name. Of the more than 70 species of lemur on the island of Madagascar, two-thirds are endangered with extinction. Lemur, which means ghost, is an apt name for these mysterious primates that are disappearing from their island home at an alarming rate. Thanks to deforestation by humans, lemurs have lost more than 90% of their forest home in the last 100 years. Add on the illegal pet trade and hunting for bushmeat, humans are dealing a death blow that many species will not survive.


Arguably the most well-known of the lemur species, the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) was the focus of our discussions on Zoo Knew this morning. (Listen to CJOB’s Weekend Wake-up Show every Sunday at 7:15 am). The ring-tailed lemur, known for its black and white tail rings and black eye mask is the most common species exhibited in zoos around the world. Here are some fun facts that we discussed this morning, and some we didn’t get a chance to.


The Assiniboine Park Zoo currently displays nine primate species including three species of lemur. http://www.zoosociety.com/ZooAnimals_animalfacts.asp?L=1

Ring-tailed lemur



  • Ring-tailed lemurs have a long fox-like snout and a highly sensitive sense of smell.
  • Scent marking is extremely important to lemurs. They can pass on information to other members of their troop or other troops about their age, gender and social status.


  • Social grooming is an important bonding tool for many primates and lemurs are no exception.
  • Ring-tails have a special claw on their second toe and a tooth comb (on their lower jaw) to aid in grooming.


  • Ring-tails are omnivorous, eating items that are seasonally available.
  • They eat many types of fruits, flowers, grasses, leaves (especially tamarind) as well as sap.
  • They are also opportunistic hunters, eating spiders, insects and lizards when they can catch them.


  • Mouse lemurs (approx. six species) are the smallest lemurs, weighing less than a pound.
  • The indri is the largest of the lemurs at more than two feet tall and approximately six pounds. Oddly enough they have the shortest, stubbiest tail of all the lemurs.
  • The ring-tailed lemur is about the size of a house cat and it’s tail is longer than its body.



  • Male and female ring-tailed lemurs look nearly identical although the male will often have a heavier head and bulkier shoulders.
  • Lemurs live in a matriarchal society, with the females dominating the group.


Randomly Fun Facts:

  • Ring-tailed lemurs are diurnal, meaning that they are active during the day.
  • Lemurs are hunted by hawks, domestic dogs and cats and humans.
  • Lemurs tend to live an average of 17 years in the wild and 20 to 25+ years in zoos.
  • Ring-tails spend more time on the ground than any other species of lemur.
  • A group of lemurs is call a troop. Troops average 18 individuals.


Compiled by Scott Gray – Assiniboine Park Zoo