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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.

Program overview
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 and 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 and 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.

JUNE 2019 UPDATE: Three programs launched

The launch of three brand-new training programs

The DLC’s bond with Madagascar has grown even stronger with the launch of three training programs that promise to improve lemur care and welfare in both the lemurs’ native and adoptive homes.

1. In spring 2019, through our first-ever collaboration with Mad Dog Initiative (MDI), the Duke Lemur Center hosted Malagasy veterinarian Dr. Tsiky Rajaonarivelo in Durham for three months of intensive training in lemur veterinary medicine.

2. And in fall 2019, the DLC’s own primate technician of 15 years, Bevan Clark, left for a 10-month stay at Parc Ivoloina in eastern Madagascar. There she’ll train staff of Madagascar’s zoos on husbandry, health monitoring, and breeding and birth season management techniques for captive lemurs.

3. Bevan is helping oversee the on-the-ground implementation of our third training initiative: a comprehensive lemur care manual compiled by DLC conservationist Andrea Katz, who lived in Madagascar for 15 years and managed the DLC colony from 2006-2018. The manual, which was created in partnership with the Government of Madagascar, will help advance lemur care and welfare in zoos across the island.

Bevan’s trip to Madagascar is the biggest project the DLC has ever assigned to a technician. “We’ve never had a tech project of this magnitude or duration,” says DLC executive director Greg Dye, adding: “The most tangible thing we can do for lemur care in Madagascar is to send one of our staff there or bring a veterinarian here. The zoos and conservation programs in Madagascar have hearts as big as ours, but their funds and resources are just a fraction of what we have access to.”

Learn more and see photos on pages 26-29 of the DLC's 2019 annual magazine.

Advancing lemur care and management in Madagascar

At the invitation of the Government of Madagascar’s Ministry of the Environment (MinEnv), four DLC staff members – conservationist Andrea Katz, veterinarian Bobby Schopler, animal care supervisor Britt Keith, and data manager Sarah Zehr – travelled to Madagascar in June to conduct a workshop on lemur care and management in Madagascar’s zoos and wildlife parks.

Held at Parc Ivoloina and co-hosted by the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group (MFG), the workshop celebrated the new Lemur Care and Management Manual created by the DLC in collaboration with Malagasy colleagues. With chapters on breeding and social management, housing and enrichment, veterinary care and nutrition, animal records, zoo ethics, and wildlife laws, the new manual (in French) will serve as an official MinEnv document and advance standards of lemur care at zoos throughout Madagascar.

Over 30 representatives from the MinEnv, local conservation associations, and Malagasy zoos – including veterinarians, animal managers, and keepers – participated in the workshop. The manual was reviewed by the workshop’s participants, whose input will be incorporated into the upcoming final version.

In addition to presentations by Andrea, Bobby, Britt, and Sarah, Dave Morgan of Wild Welfare spoke about modern concepts of animal welfare and ethics. MinEnv staff led sessions on wildlife laws and the government’s goals to expand oversight of captive lemur facilities and cooperative breeding programs, and the group discussed the creation of a Madagascar Zoo Association to support these goals into the future. DLC staff is excited about next steps and the opportunities to grow our partnerships to benefit both ex situ and in situ lemur conservation in Madagascar.

New internship brings Malagasy veterinarians to the DLC for additional medical training

Tsiky’s arrival at the Duke Lemur Center in March 2019 heralded the beginning of an annual internship for Malagasy vets, which DLC veterinarian Bobby Schopler has been working on arranging for years. Offered in collaboration with MDI, the veterinary exchange program blends two organizations with the same shared vision for conservation work. MDI assesses the impact of feral dogs on native Malagasy wildlife, including lemurs, and provides training for veterinary students and graduated veterinarians from the University of Antananarivo.

“Madagascar runs on relationships,” says the DLC’s curator, Cathy Williams. A longtime veterinarian with extensive experience working in Madagascar, Cathy understands clearly why Bevan’s extended stay is so valuable and how Tsiky’s training has the capacity for huge positive change. “If any veterinarian is going to have a positive impact, it’s going to be a Malagasy vet,” she says. “They understand the culture and unique challenges and provide more continuity than any visiting foreign vet ever could.”

Veterinary training in Madagascar is based more on theory than practice. “We have five years in theory, and in the last year you do your thesis,” says Tsiky. “In my time, we didn’t have as much practical training on animals. We learn about animal medicine and practice on humans in the beginning, but we don’t really have a chance to practice on animals.”

Cathy first worked with Tsiky on a project in 2012, when Tsiky was in her final year of vet school. At that time, she hadn’t ever conducted a physical exam on a lemur, used a stethoscope, or recorded data in the field.

After her time at the DLC, Tsiky now has the skills to treat lemurs brought to her clinic from the pet trade. “Sometimes we encounter pet lemurs that people want to give to us because they don’t know where to keep them,” says Tsiky. “So, I will be able to take proper care of them and share my knowledge with my colleagues in zoos.”

She is one of only five veterinarians island-wide who are known to treat lemurs, and her connection to the Duke Lemur Center makes her a major source of lemur-related veterinary knowledge in Madagascar.

International exchange opportunities like Tsiky’s, Bevan’s, and the Lemur Care and Management Manual offer new approaches to lemur care and conservation, benefitting lemurs around the world. By providing instruction to Malagasy veterinarians and guidance for zoos, we provide better care for captive lemurs in Madagascar, which leads to a better global breeding population, and better likelihood for species survival.

“But the greatest benefit from having Tsiky here,” Greg says, “is understanding the amount of passion and determination she has for protecting Madagascar’s natural resources. You see the drive of professionals like Tsiky, and you know: If the future of Madagascar is in hands like hers, it’s in very good hands.”

Thank you, donors!

Bevan’s and Tsiky’s programs were made possible by the generosity of individual donors. Andrea’s lemur care manual and workshop were supported by a grant to the DLC from the Disney Conservation Fund and the Conservation Grants Funds of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Duke University alumni Drs. Elisabeth and Russel Cook provided key support for DLC staff members’ travel to Madagascar in June.

100% of funding for the DLC’s Madagascar conservation programs comes from private donations and grants. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!