VALDOSTA, Ga. — Wild Adventures Theme Park located in south Georgia near the Florida state line got quite the surprise when zookeepers found a new born ring-tailed lemur pup that no one was expecting.
Zookeeper Caitlin McDargh remembers getting their ring-tailed lemurs, Topanga and Cori, and finding Topanga to be a little heavier than expected.
There were no other signs that she might be pregnant. By mid-June, she’d given birth, unbeknownst to the zookeepers.
Due to habitat loss and other reasons, the ring-tailed lemur species — native only to Madagascar like all lemurs — is an endangered species.
McDargh said the park’s goal is to provide future populations of ring-tailed lemurs with the possibility of release back into the wild. With this in mind, the pup is an exciting welcome.
While breeding is a natural behavior of wild lemurs, Topanga did not breed with Cori to have the baby. But even so, the fact that she bred with another male still means she’s performed a natural behavior.
It’s all about helping them live as normal and happy as possible.
“As part of this species survival plan that we have for them, we want to make sure they are able to breed and do it successfully,” she said.
This is Topanga’s first baby with Wild Adventures, but it’s not her first baby. The first was an unsuccessful birth, a commonplace of the wild, McDargh said.
“A lot of mothers have to have a couple of tries to get it right,” she said. “This baby seems to be doing really well which is really exciting for us.”
According to Live Science, lemur pups hang onto their mother’s bellies for the first three to four weeks, then hang on their mother’s backs until they are two to three months old.
Lemur pups may take around three years to reach sexual maturity, but they all have a long way to go before being able to return to the wild.
There’s a lot that goes into it, McDargh said, and the most successful effort toward doing that would be similar to the California Condor Project. Babies are raised with puppets and don’t see people at all.
“What you would do is take some breeding pairs and any babies that they had, you wouldn’t want them to see people at all,” she said. “They’d be raised by their parents and they’d only ever see their parents.”
People may go into the environment to feed them, clean the environment, etc., but human contact should be minimal.
“You want to make sure they’re eating their native foods, they’re healthy doing so and that they’re able to forage on their own,” she said.
But that really takes a few generations. The park isn’t anywhere close to that stage, Public Relations Manager Adam Floyd said.
Throwing them back into the wild wouldn’t work because the lemurs wouldn’t know how to take care of themselves. Right now, it’s about lemur conservation.
“We want to make sure that everyone is able to see these animals for generations to come,: McDargh said.
Conservation extends to all animals in the park though as the ring-tailed lemur is not the only endangered species protected by Wild Adventures Theme Park.
Graham, a greater one-horned rhinoceros, is also part of a species survival plan. He’s known as a stud, available for breeding at other zoos, but because his genetics are well represented in the wild, he may not get the chance.
Wild Adventures will be having a naming competition for the new lemur pup in the coming weeks.