Lady leaders

In the wild it is the female black lemurs who are in charge of the pack.

January 12, 2012 18:33
2 minute read.
Female lemur

Female lemur 521. (photo credit: Courtesy of the Biblical Zoo)

Most of the animals at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo’s Small Animal Enclosure live inside the building. However, there is one exhibit that is on display outside and enables visitors to get closer to the animals than almost any others at the zoo. These are the black lemurs that engage in a never-ending frenzy of activity just centimeters from visitors.

The zoo has three of these curious primates that are endemic to Madagascar and are therefore found nowhere else in the world. There are two males and one female at the zoo. Only the males have the black fur that gives them their name; the females are brownish-red in color.

Film buffs may be mistaken in thinking of the character of King Julien XIII from the movie Madagascar; however his eminence is a ring-tailed lemur that comes from the same region as the black lemurs.

Contrary to what is depicted in the movie, in the wild it is the females who are in charge. Lemurs live in a matriarchy in which the females dominate the black-coated males in community life. There can be as many as 15 lemurs in each community, with roughly equal numbers of males and females. In their natural habitat, these creatures like to roam over a relatively large territory. Due to the confined space on the island of Madagascar, territories often overlap. However, lemurs opt for living in harmony with each other rather than segregating their communities.

Lemurs are not known for being the smartest primates swinging through the trees, especially compared to monkeys. But lemurs are very dexterous with their hands and delicate fingers and show advanced motor skills that they use to forage for the fruit and seeds they eat. They also have a forgiving nature when handled by their keepers for regular check-ups and medical attention. Whereas many primates do not enjoy being handled by humans and will sulk for some time after such interaction, lemurs will return to take food from the hand within minutes of being handled.

Madagascar is a warm country and Jerusalem can get quite chilly, so the zoo’s lemurs have a heated room in their enclosure where they can go on colder days or nights.

The lemur exhibit enables visitors to get quite close to the animals, who perform their antics with little more than a thin fence separating them from the onlookers. Keepers face a constant battle to prevent visitors from feeding the animals, an activity that is forbidden and very dangerous to the lemurs’ health.

Lemurs are active throughout the day and night, so there is always something to see, as long as visitors keep their hands – and their food – to themselves.

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