Lemurs are Full of Surprises by Nicole Rivard While ring-tailed lemurs have gained exposure through movies like IMAX’s Island of Lemurs: Madagascar and the animated kids film Madagascar starring King Julien, what may come as a surprise is there are actually more than 90 species of lemurs. And in addition to caring for 33 of the more well-known ring-tailed lemurs, Primarily Primates (PPI) also provides sanctuary to eight brown lemurs. Remarkably, there are 12 species of brown lemurs in the world. Brooke Chavez, executive director of PPI, describes lemurs as “exceptionally amazing creatures” that many people mistakenly think are monkeys. She explains that lemurs are small primates known as “prosimians,” which, roughly translated, means “pre-primates” or “before monkeys.” Native only to the island of Madagascar and the neighboring Comoro Islands, lemurs resemble the oldest ancestors of primates who existed tens of millions of years ago. It’s suggested that lemurs made their way to Madagascar from the larger African continent millions of years ago and have since adapted and evolved into the diverse number of species that exist today. Sadly 94 percent of lemurs are threatened with extinction. Forty-nine species are listed as endangered and another 24 species are critically endangered. Chavez pointed out that unlike some other primates, lemurs do not have prehensile tails (they cannot hang by their tails from trees like monkeys) but they do have long, wet noses. While their thumbs and big toes are opposable, they mainly use their teeth and an extended “toilet claw” on the second toe of their hind feet for grooming. The majority of lemurs are also diurnal, awake during the day and asleep at night — especially those that live in groups, including the ring-tailed lemurs and brown lemurs. “All of our brown lemurs share a habitat with our ring-tailed lemurs. Mixed species sharing a habitat can be a great form of socialization because it adds a different social dynamic to the troop,” Chavez explained. “Our lemurs are extremely social, so much so that you often see them huddled together in a ‘lemur ball.’” Speaking of social dynamic, another remarkable thing about lemurs is most species live in a matriarchal society—one dominant female leads the group, controls their movement, and has first choice of mates and food. And don’t let their size fool you—while their brain mass might be small, they are extremely intelligent, Chavez said. “I have found that our lemurs can recognize sequences and patterns sometimes faster than the great apes. For example, when given food enrichment puzzles, they use problem solving skills to determine what lever releases which treat, and they always go for the lever that releases the fruit treat first.” The lemurs also seem to have figured out when food enrichment days are—their level of excitement and activity amped on those days before the treats were passed out. “So now we mix it up and change the days we do food enrichment, because we can’t have anything predictable,” Chavez explained. “We always have to change it up, because lemurs would receive change every day in the wild.” In the wild is where lemurs belong, says Chavez, and it’s a message she wants people to hear loud and clear. Of the eight brown lemurs at PPI three were released from behavioral research labs and five were rescued from the exotic pet trade. They are the least expensive lemur to purchase making them susceptible to the exotic pet trade. “Sometimes movies can lead to the wrong message. People watch movies and cartoons and think, ‘Oh lemurs are cute and cuddly, and I want a lemur.’ People have to understand they are wild animals that belong in the wild. They don’t like to ‘move it’ ‘move it’ in your living room like King Julien in the cartoon,” Chavez said. “We have a ring-tailed lemur named Jiggy, who was kept as a pet and released to the sanctuary two years ago, and he is struggling a bit. We have not been able to introduce him to a social group because he doesn’t know how to speak their language at all. He was older, almost 4 when he arrived, so he’s having a hard time picking up on primate behavior and language. Primates are so hurt socially and neurologically from being kept as pets.” Fortunately, thanks to the loving staff, nutritious diets and large 40-foot habitats that mimic the wild as much as possible, most of the lemurs at PPI are thriving physically and socially—one of our larger ring-tailed lemur groups includes 11 lemurs.
Primarily Primates Welcomes Rhesus Macaque, Carter
by Nicole Rivard
Animals typically arrive at Primarily Primates in Texas, the sanctuary Friends of Animals manages, with little fanfare, but “Carter the Monkey” is an exception. This rhesus macaque not only made headlines, but people could even follow his journey from Charlotte, N.C., to Primarily Primates (PPI) in early December on Facebook and on Twitter via his hashtag #travelmonkey.
Carter first garnered media attention in March of 2015 when he escaped the confines of his cage and his owner’s car in the Carolina Medical Center-University parking lot in Charlotte. He then bit a hospital employee who was trying to capture him and remained on the loose. The following day Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department’s Animal Care & Control Division officers were able to capture Carter, and he was kept in isolation so he could be tested for contagious diseases.
Carter’s owner, Nyeshia Miller, was charged with misdemeanor possession of an animal who is illegal to own in Mecklenburg County, N.C. In August of 2015, she surrendered her ownership rights in court in exchange for having the charge dropped. North Carolina is one of five states that has no law that bans exotic animals such as Carter. But Mecklenburg County, like about half the counties in the state, does have exotic animal laws.
While residing at the Animal Control, Carter chose kennel attendant Leslie Wright as his best friend and caretaker. Although Wright was his main caretaker, it took a team of dedicated staff and multiple organizations and a lot of financial support to find a permanent home for Carter, including a $6,000 grant from Bob Barker’s DJ&T Foundation. The money was used by PPI for materials to construct Carter his very own green space habitat that is complete with a heated bedroom and a barrel airplane to play with.
“He loves his airplane in his green space,” said Brooke Chavez, executive director of PPI. “He will bring a little toy up there with him and just sit inside the airplane with it. If you don’t know he’s in there, when you are walking by it looks like the airplane is taking off because he’s shaking it. It’s funny.” Before Wright and another AC&C staff member began driving Carter to PPI back in December, they made sure they fulfilled Carter’s travel requests: bananas, fresh water and his portable DVD player so he could watch his favorite movie Ice Age during his trip. Carter has also taken a liking to oatmeal with dinosaur shaped fruit in it.
He is being slowly introduced to a female companion, another rhesus macaque named Tori. Interestingly, Tori also lived in North Carolina as a pet monkey and found sanctuary at PPI in March of 2015. As Carter’s story was unfolding, so too was an effort to tighten North Carolina exotic animal ownership laws.
North Carolina, Alabama, Nevada, South Carolina and Wisconsin are the states that have no license or permit requirements or have no state statute governing private possession of exotic animals. “Primates are wild animals. They belong in the wild,” added Chavez. Kudos to the 19 states that have an outright ban on private ownership of exotic animals, including large cats, wolves, bears, reptiles and most non-human primates: Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington.
Three Wild Horses Find Sanctuary at PPI
It’s the end of October of 2015, and after two weeks at Primarily Primates (PPI) one-year-old Appaloosa colt Comanche pricks his ears forward and stretches his neck as far as he can, extending his muzzle just far enough so you can kiss it. But it takes another several days before the wild horse will allow anyone to stroke his neck without shivering with anxiety and jumping back. He sticks close to the side of Bindi, who, like Comanche, was ripped from her home on the Dann Sister’s tribal lands in Antelope Valley, Nevada, at the end of 2014.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been pimping out that land to gold mining companies. Unlike Comanche, Bindi, a 1 ½-year-old bay filly, welcomes human touch and grooming. She has established herself as the leader of this two-horse band, and she displays it through some food aggression and her hesitation to embrace Moxie, the three-month-old wild foal Friends of Animals (FoA), which manages PPI, also adopted after she was orphaned by the BLM’s horrific roundup of 167 horses in the West Douglas Herd Management area of Colorado in the summer of 2015.
Who can blame these wild horses for being unsure about themselves and humans? Roundups rip these youngsters from their societies—where they would have received discipline and help finding their way in life.While losing her family was devastating—her mom and band stallion outran the helicopters—at least Moxie’s life was spared during the roundup. Another wild foal was killed by the BLM after it broke its leg fleeing from helicopters, and an older wild horse suffered a broken neck after it fell while being loaded onto a trailer headed for BLM holding prisons and was trampled by another wild horse.
In September of last year FoA filed a lawsuit against the BLM and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to halt further - devastating assaults against wild horses in northwest Colorado. According to the lawsuit, the intricate physiological events - that occur during a wild horses fight or flight reaction to a helicopter round up suggest that these are assaults against wild - horses and are not humane as the BLM maintains, thus violating the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971. The presence and free spiritedness of Comanche, Bindi and Moxie at Primarily Primates is a constant source of inspiration for FoA’s work going forward.