Chester Zoo: Critically endangered lemur born that could save the species from extinction

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A critically endangered lemur has been born at Chester Zoo - which could save the species from extinction

Conservationists are celebrating the birth of a critically endangered lemur at a UK zoo - which is hoped will help save the rare species from extinction.

The Coquerel’s sifaka lemur - one of the world’s most threatened primates - arrived at Chester Zoo to parents Beatrice, 11, and Elliot, 10, in September. Adorable photos show the wide-eyed baby bonding with mum and clinging tightly to her fur as she leaps from tree to tree during its first recent venture outdoors. The tiny new arrival was born following a five-month pregnancy and weighed 120g - around the same as a medium-sized tomato. Chester Zoo is currently the only zoo in the UK, and one of just three in Europe, to care for the Coquerel’s sifaka.

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The species has been nicknamed the ‘dancing lemur’ because of the unique way that it moves. Sifakas stand perfectly upright while using their powerful legs to spring side to side along the floor and can leap more than 20ft through the treetops in a single bound.

Primate experts at the zoo say the baby will begin to branch out and explore on its own at around three months old, which is when they will reveal if it’s male or female.

Dr Nick Davis, primatologist and general manager of mammals at the zoo, said: “A new arrival into the conservation breeding programme is a huge boost for the species, especially as the little one will be joining only five other Coquerel’s sifaka living in zoos across Europe, so every addition is very special. The new baby was born with a thick fuzzy white coat, just like its parents, and is already wide-eyed and full of personality.

"Mum Beatrice is being kept very busy with her playful arrival who is feeding from her regularly and has, so far, showed great signs of development.

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“Over the next few weeks the youngster will gain enough confidence to begin exploring on its own.

"Only then will our team be able to get a closer look and discover if it’s male or female, which is really important information as we work to safeguard the species and its future.”

In the wild the Coquerel’s sifaka population has declined by 80 per cent in the last 30 years due to widespread habitat loss across the island of Madagascar.

As a result, the species is classed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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New parents Beatrice and Elliot were transferred from the Duke Lemur Center in the USA in 2021 to begin a new conservation breeding programme aimed at safeguarding the primates from extinction.

Mike Jordan, director of animals and plants at Chester Zoo, added: “These unique primates are found in only one place on Earth, the northwestern forests of Madagascar.

"Sadly, their population is in sharp decline and their habitat has become increasingly fragmented as more than 90 per cent of the island’s forest has been wiped out to make way for agricultural farming and human activities.

“For more than a decade we’ve been working with our in-country field partners and NGO, Madagasikara Voakajy.

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"During this time, we have helped develop a special area of protected forest, spanning more than 27,000 hectares, to safeguard the island’s unique wildlife including lemurs, frogs and reptiles.

“We’re hopeful that the work here at the zoo in the UK, as part of the co-ordinated efforts with other European zoos, paired with our efforts in Madagascar to protect the forests, will ensure species like the Coquerel’s sifaka can thrive for generations to come.”

Coquerel's sifaka lemur facts

  • Scientific name: Propithecus coquereli
  • There are more than 100 species of lemur in Madagascar – the only place where lemurs are found in the wild
  • Sadly, IUCN primate experts report that destruction of their forest homes, caused by people for agriculture and timber, as well as hunting for their meat, has led to lemurs being considered as being the most endangered group of mammals in the world
  • 94 per cent of all lemur populations are at risk of disappearing forever. Sadly, many larger lemur species have already become extinct
  • Lemurs play a huge role in maintaining forest diversity, structure and dynamics through the dispersing seeds and pollen from one area to another
  • They are very unusual in the mammal world as they share a trait with only a handful of other species, female dominance
  • Coquerel's sifaka lemurs are two feet tall and weigh around 4kg
  • Gestation is around 130 days and only give birth to one off spring at a time. New babies will ride around on their parent’s back for around five months until they’re ready to venture out alone
  • Their tails are longer than their bodies, which helps them balance and move through the trees. Their vocal and distinctive calls are used to warn others off their territory and find each other in the wild
  • They have scent glands on their throats, which they rub along branches to mark where they have been or to attract a mate.
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