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Ex-Situ Lemur Initiatives

A female crowned lemur living at Parc Ivoloina, an ex-situ conservation center in Tamatave, Madagascar.

Working with the Government of Madagascar, the Duke Lemur Center has begun building a program to advance animal husbandry, welfare, and breeding programs for ex-situ lemur populations in Madagascar. The program is spearheaded by longtime Lemur Center employee Andrea Katz, who lived and worked in Madagascar for 15 years and – before transitioning into this new role in 2018 – served as the DLC’s animal curator since 2006.

The Duke Lemur Center is uniquely qualified to build and manage such a program, given our long history caring for lemurs and our 35+ years’ conservation and research experience in Madagascar.

What is ex-situ conservation?

Ex-situ initiatives address the conservation and care of lemurs living outside the forest in zoos and conservation centers across the island. In-situ conservation initiatives, on the other hand, focus on lemurs still living in their natural habitat (Madagascar’s forests).

Ex-situ conservation measures complement in-situ methods in that they provide a genetic safety net (or “insurance policy”) against a species’ total extinction. These measures also have a valuable role to play in recovery programs for endangered species.  

Background + History

In 2017, the Government of Madagascar’s (GOM's) Wildlife Department requested the assistance of the Duke Lemur Center to advance the state of lemur husbandry and breeding management in Madagascar’s zoos. On the island, lemur collections are held in 14 facilities licensed by the GOM, including two national zoos and 12 privately-owned zoos. Together these zoos care for 645 lemurs of 20 endangered species.

As yet, Madagascar has no national standards of animal care and management, and while some zoos are fairly well run, others exhibit inadequate housing and husbandry practices. And, because the GOM requires these zoos to accept and care for lemurs that are confiscated from people holding them illegally as pets or for illicit trade, housing and care are even more challenging. There is also little to no consistent record-keeping in place, and the origin of many lemurs is unknown. Unfortunately, it is also rare for animal exchanges to occur for the purpose of improving genetic and demographic diversity in breeding programs. Madagascar can, and wants to, do better with the DLC’s help.

Why is this program needed?

For more than fifty years, the DLC has built its reputation as a world leader in understanding and caring for lemurs. The DLC’s knowledge is sought and respected by ex-situ institutions and zoos around the world. We can no longer overlook the importance of working with Madagascar’s own ex-situ facilities. It is our moral duty – our obligation – to continue to share what we know with them so that lemur collections and breeding programs in Madagascar attain high professional standards and are as successful as ours at the DLC.

Future + Goals

Andrea's first-year goals are to:

(1) build local capacity via training of Malagasy zoo staff
(2) produce a comprehensive lemur care manual in Malagasy and French
(3) develop a standardized animal record system for use in Madagascar
(4) establish a Zoo Code of Ethics
(5) develop guidelines for the management of confiscated and illegally held lemurs

Madagascar’s involvement is key to our success in protecting lemurs. The Duke Lemur Center is committed to extending our focus to include ex-situ lemur populations on their native island of Madagascar, where it is vital to ensure lemurs’ genetic safety net in the very “backyard” of the only land where they exist in the wild. The island’s managed lemurs and their descendants could one day be reintroduced to Madagascar’s forests, enhancing or re-establishing wild populations where habitat is protected.

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