Lemur star of Zoboomafoo remembered as playful and caring
For the Duke Lemur Center, the death of Jovian—a Coquerel’s sifaka who called the center home for 20 years—meant the loss of a lemur praised for his kindness and spirit. But for teenagers and twentysomethings across the country, it meant the loss of a childhood icon—Zoboomafoo, the titular role Jovian played on the popular kids TV show.
Footage of Jovian was a centerpiece of the popular wildlife show, which aired 65 episodes from 1999 to 2001, and is still syndicated. The much-loved lemur died of kidney failure Monday at the age of 20, leaving behind a legacy as a playful friend and caring father, in addition to a television star.
Chris Kratt and his brother, Martin, Trinity ’89, who cohosted “Zoboomafoo,” came to Duke in 1997 to audition several lemur family groups at the center for the starring role of the lemur, affectionately known as “Zooboo.” Although the lemur was played by a puppet most of the time, the brothers also wanted to intermix footage of a live lemur.
Jovian’s playful attitude and natural beauty made him a natural fit for the role, Martin Kratt said.
“He was great, a really beautiful sifaka,” Kratt said. “He was really gentle and curious, the perfect lemur for the show.”
Kratt volunteered at the Lemur Center as an undergraduate at Duke in the 1980s, where he worked with Nigel, the lemur who would one day become Jovian’s father. When he returned to Durham eight years after graduation to cast the role of Zoboomafoo, Kratt was reunited with Nigel—and discovered that his son, Jovian, was made for television.
“Jovian was a super beautiful animal,” said David Haring, the center’s registrar and photographer. “No one was surprised when he passed the screen test with flying colors.”
Haring described Jovian, who was born at the center in 1994, as long-limbed, with cream and russet fur and bright yellow eyes.
The Kratts came to Durham in 1997 with a complete stage set that they erected inside an outdoor cage. They filmed two weeks of footage of Jovian and his parents on the set, which became known on the show as “Animal Junction.” Though all three lemurs made appearances, Jovian was the clear star.
“He was funny,” Kratt said, recalling how Jovian would grab his hair or nose while filming. “There was a lot of great interaction, and it made for a lot of great moments.
Outside of the show, Jovian was described as a “capable and caring father,” who sired 12 sifakas by two different partners, leading to four grandbabies and two on the way, according to the center’s website.
Video courtesy of Zoboomafoo
Jovian is survived by his mate Pia and their family group, which includes 6-year-old son Conrad, 2-year-old son Ferdinand and 10-month-old daughter Gertrude. He also has three grown offspring who left the family group for breeding but remain at the center, and a fourth grown daughter who lives at the Cincinnati Zoo.
In total, Pia and Jovian had nine infants, seven of which are still alive.
Based on sightings of Jovian and Pia before his death, staff at the center said they hope Jovian has produced one last offspring, though it is too soon to tell if Pia is pregnant.
Jovian’s body will be held in an ultra-refrigerated environment and used for scientific study, Haring said.
The Family Tree
Though Jovian was by all accounts a down-to-earth and friendly lemur, his time as a TV star was followed by some Hollywood family drama. After he wrapped on "Zoboomafoo," Jovian was introduced into an established lemur group that consisted of a female named Alexianus, and her three children. Over the course of seven years, Jovian and Alexianus had three babies of their own—but sadly, none of them survived past infancy, and drama brewed with the children from Alexianus's previous partner. The oldest daughter, Pia, was ultimately kicked out of the family.
When Alexianus died in 2005, however, Jovian and Pia were reunited—and the two became partners. Jovian and his former "step-daughter" lived together until his death, bearing nine children, seven of whom are still alive. The pair also have four grandchildren, with two more on the way.