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WEEK EIGHT - Lemur Profiles: Lynard & Skynard

February 28, 2017

(Yup, week eight is another double feature. Click here to read about the silly 'dillos.)


     Of all the duties that I have on the island, naming lemurs is not one of them. If that were the case, they would have names like Lupin, Grindelwald, and Fenrir. The lemur troops - instead of having labels like Yankee Bridge, East Road, and Picnic Bluff - might instead be christened: House Baratheon, House Tyrell, and House Greyjoy. But the people in charge of naming St. Catherines' lemurs are not book nerds. They're people who...well...who like Lynyrd Skynyrd (but apparently didn't like the original spelling). Naming of the lemurs has historically been done in keeping with various themes. From the same year that Lynard and Skynard came along (which was 2013), we also have Blondie, Joan Jett, June Carter Cash, Tracey Chapman, Dolly, and Delta Dawn. It's quite typical for ring-tailed lemurs to birth twins, however, and Lynard and Skynard aren't poor names for twin lemurs. They were two of the very first names that I learned, precisely because they were easy to remember. Before I l discovered that male lemurs have scent glands on their chests, I thought the two black protrusions I saw on Skynard were vestigial nipples. Combined with his white chest, it was simple for my imagination to conjure a trailer park style muscle shirt and - bam! - I had my mnemonic device. Male lemurs also have scent glands on their wrists and their "behinds." Most females carry their glands exclusively near the base of their tails, but a few have developed glands on their wrists as well. To me, this suggests support for a non-binary gender spectrum in animals. To everyone else, it's just weird.


     Unlike the reputation of their namesakes, Lynard and Skynard are very tidy and very smart. Nearly all of the lemurs who don't belong to one of the five free-ranging troops are housed in the same building. Since lemurs are very social creatures and don't like being alone, they're in enclosures in groups of two or four. This is especially important when the weather turns nasty, as they like to form what we affectionately refer to as "lemur balls," meaning that they huddle up together for warmth (this, by the way, is incredibly adorable). Each set of lemurs has access to a screened-in outdoor area as well as an indoor portion and nearly half of my work day is spent cleaning both of these areas. As such, I really do appreciate Lynard and Skynard's tendency to keep their indoor area nice and clean. Their sire, Peanut, lives just across the hall and is not so meticulous. Their mom's name (a mommy lemur is called a dam) is Holly and she's one of our free-rangers out at East Road.



      Aside from having daily maid service, the indoor lemurs get another thing the free-rangers don't. It's called "enrichment" and it essentially consists of me and my fellow intern coming up with ways to entertain our long-tailed charges. A practice common in many zoos - and one we employ here - is an activity called "target training." We train the lemurs to touch the end of a stick with their noses on command. That may seem like a silly trick, but it can really come in handy if we need to get one in a carrier or need to check for injuries. Lynard and Skynard, however, have this little game down quite well. When given the command to touch the stick, they will often - eyes half-lidded in a sarcastic display of boredom - grab the end of the stick with their hand and pull it to their noses. Then, they look for their reward. The twins are good at figuring out most of our puzzles and are constantly challenging us to come up with new ideas.


     Lynard and Skynard also have the distinction of being the only "intact" males left on the island. That's one good reason for keeping them in their own separate space. The female lemurs cycle regularly and when they're in estrus, things can get rowdy. But, as the only boys who can do anything about it are locked away together, with no hope of reaching the ladies, there have been no baby lemurs on the island for several years. Since we'll be saying a tearful goodbye to them later this year, it's unlikely that these boys will be fathering the island's next generation anyway. Our loss is Australia's gain. These boys, as well as two other males, will be going to live in Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo. The four who are already there also came from St. Catherines. I wonder if they'll recognize each other (I also wonder if they'll need any intern escorts). While I'm too far down on the totem pole to have the full details of this decision, I do know that part of the reason for their move is the lack of genetic diversity on the island. As I've mentioned in the past, most of the ring-tailed lemurs in the United States are related to ours. So, in order to avoid some of the problems that come with having a small gene pool, we'll need to mix up our males a bit. That's going to mix me up a bit too, because - even though two months have already flashed by - I'm just starting to remember everybody's names (which goes for the humans on the island too).

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