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Featured Creature: Meet the Lemurs

Lemurs like to do more than move it, move it. At the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, these primates party! Every April, animal keepers throw a big birthday bash for the Zoo’s ring-tailed lemurs, black-and-white ruffed lemurs and red-fronted lemur to raise awareness about these critically endangered species from Madagascar. Get to know them in this update from primate keeper Emily Bricker.

Want to give the lemurs a birthday gift? Donate to the Zoo’s Enrichment Trunk in honor of your favorite lemur (or loved one). Your support helps keepers purchase new toys and retire old ones that have been well-loved over the years.

Nothing get primates in the party spirit quite like music! Primate keepers and Friends of the National Zoo volunteers created rock ‘n’ roll themed enrichment for the lemurs’ birthdays. Recycled cardboard boxes and paper towel tubes were the perfect medium for making a lemur-sized guitar, drum and microphone. Paper bags decorated with instruments, musical notes and symbols were filled with their favorite treats: raisins and yogurt.

Two frozen cakes — made by our talented Department of Nutrition Sciences — were the crescendo of the party! Animal keeper Brian Cannon crafted the layers using frozen pineapple, apple and cranberry juices. Atop each cake was a garnish of blueberries, raspberries, grapes and strawberries, as well as pineapple chunks and slices of apple, mango and banana.

Flare, our 33-year-old red-fronted lemur, is Lemur Island’s senior resident and is the boss of the group! Of the seven lemurs that reside at the Island, she is the only female. She can often be seen huddling with the ring-tailed lemurs, and she especially sticks close by Bowie’s side. Her birthday is March 19, 1986.

Bowie is the most dominant of the Zoo’s ring-tailed lemurs, and he often reaps the rewards of being in charge. He has a bold personality, which is evident whenever we give the group enrichment items. Bowie will wait for the other lemurs to figure out the puzzle feeders first before swooping in and taking the treats for himself! He will turn 6 years old May 5.

Ring-tailed lemur Tom Petty has a unique and distinguished look about him. One easy way to tell him apart from the others is by looking closely at the markings on his head; there is plenty of white space between his black eye rings and the gray hair on top of his head. One of Tom Petty’s favorite activities is eating, and he can often be seen munching on the foliage around Lemur Island. He is six years old and was born March 22, 2013.

Meet Southside Johnny! This 6-year-old ring-tailed lemur has piercing eyes that are a darker, orange hue. He also has a small white “V” at the edge of the gray hair on his forehead. Johnny is a star during husbandry training sessions with his keepers.

He can often be seen jumping to great heights or voluntarily displaying behaviors on cue. Visitors can catch a glimpse of his amazing abilities during the 2 p.m. demonstration that takes place daily at Lemur Island. He was born March 23, 2013.

At 7 years old, Birch is the oldest of the Zoo’s ring-tailed lemurs. He can be very shy and is often wary of new things, but he has a social butterfly streak, too. He gets along very well with the other ring-tailed lemurs and can often be seen huddling and grooming with the group. His birthday is March 15, 2012.

Black-and-white ruffed lemur Aloke has a feisty streak. Although he is very smart and enjoys participating in husbandry training sessions, he also has a tendency to try to steal food out of keepers’ treat pouches! During the day, visitors can often hear Aloke calling from the tree tops. He turns 10 years old June 2.

True to his name, black-and-white ruffed lemur Wiley is often the goof of the group. Alongside Aloke, Wiley can often be seen in the treetops of Lemur Island, and their booming calls can be heard around the Zoo! He is very outgoing and likes to be right in the middle of all the action.

He can be a bit clumsy, sometimes, and tends to trip over his feet — but that just adds to his charm! When his birthday comes around May 4, he will turn 9 years old.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about our lemurs’ personalities! Now that the weather is warmer, we will be hosting animal demonstrations at Lemur Island every day at 2 p.m. Stop by and meet our seven lemurs and learn more fun facts about them. I hope to see you there!

This story was featured in the April 2019 issue of National Zoo News.