Loving lemurs

Photo by Janet DrayAsk anyone who had ever taken care of Zia and they would say “She’s amazing.” Of course, being a prosimian and a lemur is amazing in and of itself, not to mention a beautiful black-and-white ruffed lemur. But Zia also had an incredible personality that captivated those around her whether they were her care takers, other Zoo staff or visitors. She was extremely sweet (when not protecting her young) and very curious. She recently passed away from age-related complications at the very ripe age of 28 and will be sorely missed by all.

Zia was born at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina in May of 1985 and came to Seneca Park Zoo in 1992 from the Erie Zoo where she had been on a breeding loan. Lemurs are endangered due to loss of habitat and hunting in their native Madagascar and are managed as part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP) through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). She and mate Leo had three offspring, including son Spike who passed away in 2011.

All lemurs are fascinating animals due to their unique adaptations so it was always a pleasure as well as a great privilege watching Zia and noticing her different behaviors and special interests.

1. Her extreme curiosity whether seeing who was working in the section, to leaping to check out the spider monkey’s exhibit when they were in a separate shift space. She would always sniff new items.

2. Grooming was very important to Zia. She and Spike would groom each other. Not many other species can say they have a tooth comb as well as a special grooming nail. When Spike passed away, permission was given for staff to groom Zia with a brush or their fingers (which she enjoyed – particularly under the neck and under her arms)

3. Since black-and-white lemurs are frugivores, Zia loved fruit. As her teeth wore down with age, her diet preparations were modified accordingly. As part of her diet, her caretakers would prepare her custom fresh fruit smoothies. She always would come running for her smoothie and quickly finish it up. She also loved red bananas, baby bananas and watermelon. And don’t forget grapes – she liked fruit, a lot. And as her tastes changed, her caretakers worked hard and creatively to keep her nutrition up – including custom warm cereals and baby food.

4. Climbing – these lemurs love to be high in the trees and their feet adaptations are amazing, allowing them to leap along branches and find nesting spots to sleep in. Her enclosure was stocked full of different logs, firehoses, hammocks, shelves and platforms for her to climb on and in. She was a great climber and it was always fun trying to find which spot she had chosen to rest in. And watching her upside down by her feet was always amazing.

5. Sunning, of course. She loved to sun as only a lemur can – full face and tummy to the sun!

As usual, words don’t seem adequate to describe an experience like the one we were fortunate to have with Zia. She was sweet, strong, curious, adorable, protective and just plain amazing. I thank the Zoo and all the staff for the great privilege of loving a lemur.

– Janet Dray, volunteer