Make room, lemurs—there’s a new Coquerel’s sifaka in Durham, and her name is Marie.
On Feb. 23, 2019, the first lemur of the breeding season was born. At just more than 100 grams at birth, the equivalent of an apple, Marie’s arrival marked the first addition to the Duke Lemur Center under Executive Director Greg Dye. Notably, Marie is the granddaughter of Jovian, a resident of the DLC himself and central character in Nickelodeon’s 1990s television show "Zoboomafoo."
Marie’s parents, Gertrude and Remus, met only last year, and the DLC was not expecting the two to mate so suddenly. Staffers were exuberant when Gertrude’s mundane physical exam exposed something extraordinary.
As soon as the birth became imminent, the DLC quickly shifted into gear. Director of Communications Sara Clark described the process as exhaustive but certainly worth the effort.
“As baby watch approaches, the lemurs’ caretakers get busy preparing the 'baby suite' with cozy nest boxes and nesting materials. Prospective mothers are closely monitored for changes in behavior and other clues that the birth is approaching," Clark said. "Once the infant arrives, both baby and mom receive a thorough examination by the veterinary staff to make sure both are doing well.”
Although unexpected, Marie developed rapidly, and Gertrude has performed wonderfully as a first-time mother, according to a release from DLC. The former has gained weight and has looked more and more attentive in recent weeks, while the latter provides ample room on her abdomen for warmth and security.
After a month to maintain her well-being, staffers finally gathered for the highlight of the young lemur’s life—the designation ceremony. All of the DLC’s Coquerel’s sifakas derive their name from Western emperors and nobles, and Marie’s namesake is Marie of Luxembourg, who was approximately 18 when she was coronated as the queen of France in the 14th century.
Although she is the first newcomer this spring, Marie will certainly not be the last. Coquerel’s sifakas breed significantly earlier than other lemurs, an adaptive feature so as to avoid competition for essential resources. The DLC anticipates births from a multitude of species in the subsequent months. These new infants do attract large crowds for their adorable nature, but Clark and the DLC ensure that visitors remember the importance of these pups to the vitality of lemurs as a whole.
“Genetic diversity among our lemurs is so important," Clark said. "The more genetically diverse a population is, the more resilient it is, the healthier it is, and the better it can adapt to environmental pressures—crucial factors in the fight to protect lemurs from extinction.”
The DLC has celebrated the births of nearly 3,300 pups since its inception, and breeding makes up a crucial aspect of its mission. According to Clark, the DLC has become an ideal “genetic safety net” for endangered and critically endangered species from Madagascar.
The Coquerel’s sifaka in particular faces an immense constraint on its access to land. As a result, its status was changed from endangered to critically endangered last year, an indication of the urgency required to preserve the species.
“Because of the continuing pressures of population growth, poverty, and forest habitat destruction, it’s a very real possibility that some species of lemur could go extinct in the wild. If they do, then those species’ survival will be based solely on animals surviving within human care,” a page on the lemur center's website reads.
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