DURHAM, N.C. -- The leader of an unprecedented effort to return endangered lemurs to their homeland of Madagascar has emerged from the depths of the forest preserve to report that the five captive-born animals from Duke's Primate Center now roam free for the first time in their lives.
Project leader Charles Welch reported that the black-and-white ruffed lemurs were released on Monday and immediately dispersed to begin their new lives in the 5,000-acre Betampona Natural Reserve, where they will enhance the dwindling lemur population. The lemurs are part of a project by the international Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) to systematically repatriate as many as 20 of the adaptable animals to their ancestral island nation over the next three years.
Black-and-white ruffed lemurs, known for the fur that frames their faces and the lush coats of black and white fur, are among Madagascar's most endangered. They are regularly hunted for food on the island.
After their arrival in Madagascar three weeks ago, the animals -- Janus, Letitia, Praesepe, Sarph and Zuben'ubi - had spent time in an outdoor cage in the reserve, under the care of San Francisco Zoo veterinarian Graham Crawford. During that time, all began eating fruits harvested from the forest, supplemented with commercial monkey chow.
Since all were in good health, the release was set for Monday morning, Nov. 10, Madagascar time. The release process began with a trimming of the animals' tail hair into distinctive patterns, so they could be better identified as they were tracked through the forest.
"Two of the project's conservation agents then led a traditional
ceremony in which they explained the lemur release project to the ancestors
and asked the ancestors for their blessing," wrote Welch in an e-mailed
report. "Short speeches were made and everyone took a sip of the local
home-made rum, held in a folded leaf. Three leaves were left full of rum
in a pile of stones at the base of the r
Contact: Dennis Meredith