A ring-tailed lemur makes a noise, sounding like a human baby’s coo mixed with the high-pitch of cat’s meow.
Coquerel’s sifakas lemurs communicate with noises that sound as if they have two syllables. The first syllable sounds like a hard ‘ch,’ — as in the word “chat” — followed by the pop-sound of a quickly pecked kiss, so, these lemurs say, “ch-mppp!”
It’s birthing season at the Duke Lemur Center.
Two baby Coquerel’s sifaka lemurs were born in January. A male named Gothicus and a girl named Furia — of different parentage.
Four more lemurs have been born in the past month but their particular species of lemur, names, parents’ names and sexes will not be released until 30 days after they were born, said Duke Lemur Center Director of Communications Sara Clark.
Furia took her first steps in a tree on Tuesday.
In the wild, lemur infant mortality rates range between 25 and 50 percent, depending on species.
In Durham, lemurs have “at or close to” a 100 percent survival rate, Clark said.
“We reduce the risk of anything interfering with mother-nfant bonding or injury to the infants either by injury or another group member or the infant falling offa branch or falling off of its mother,” Clark said. “We follow what is called a Species Survival Plan which is put forth by the AZA which is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.”
The Lemur Center is AZA accredited and “breeds collaboratively” with other certified institutions like The Bronx Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo and the Cleveland Zoo.
The Species Survival Plan is formulated by an advisory board formed by a group of experts that examine lemur species’ captive populations within partnering AZA accredited institutions across the United States and calculate the best breeding pairs as to ensure genetic diversity in the U.S. lemur population.
“Sometimes since we have a lot of lemurs here at the Lemur Center, some of those breeding pairs are already in-house, we have both of the lemurs here in Durham,” Clark said. “Other times it means that we might receive a lemur from another institution because it’s a more distant genetic match.”
The anatomies, habits and practices of differing types of lemurs are very diverse. Some types of lemurs only give birth to a single baby per year while others will have two or more annually.
Ringed-tails will sometimes have twins and the orange-furred ruffed lemurs can sometimes have up to four babies per pregnancy.
Coquerel’s sifaka babies cling to their mother for the “first good chunk” of their lives, Clark said, “so, mom can only carry so many babies with her as she leaps through the forest.”
In many lemur species, an infant falling off its mother can result in death by injury or, without a mom’s warmth, by a rapid decline in body temperature.
On the other hand, a mother ruffed lemur will “nest” her infants. She will not carry her little orange balls of fur on her back while leaping from limb to limb, to low-lying branch — maybe, even, the forest floor.
Lemur Center scientists, techs and grad students constantly monitor mothers and their young to ensure that enough milk is being produced and that the little ones are all-around healthy kids.
Having only begun to “free roam” in the center’s trees on Tuesday, Furia clung to her mother, Gisela, Wednesday at the Lemur Center as primate technician Melanie Currie fed the mother peanuts out of her hand.
Gisela’s big, yellow eyes cautiously scanned Currie and the treeline as Furia clung to her back. She also kept an eye out for her oldest child, a son named Hostilian, and her mate, the father of both lemur youngsters — Rupert.
“Furia is starting to come out of her shell,” Currie said. “Yesterday ... her mom took off and left her on her own. She looked slightly freaked but calmed down, ate some leaves. A group of baby ringed-tails approached her.”
Furia had leaned forward trying to smell the foreign looking ringed-tail lemur babies, Currie said, the baby ringed-tails reared back as if articulating, “Like, what’s going on here? What is [Furia] doing?”
“Gisela is a pretty typical female lemur. Dominant. Bossy,” Currie said of Furia’s mama.
“This is actually one of the best things about lemurs, coming from me — as a woman,” Clark said. “Lemurs are highly female dominant. There is no alpha male but there is definitely an alpha female.”
Clark continued, “We have a family group of lemurs right now and in that group a female named Pompeia Plotina is very dominant. She keeps her group in line.”
Pompeia Plotina’s mate, Charlemagne — also known as “Charlie” — is relegated to watching Pompeia Plotina and her two daughters eat before he’s allowed to partake in any meals.
Mother-child pairs are separated from the rest of their family groups for the first 72 hours of a baby’s life.
“It’s natural for that to happen in the wild,” Clark said. “A new mom does not want other group members nearby the infants.”
A new mother lemur will huff and puff and lunge at family members that get too close to her newborn.
“They really want to see it. Sometimes they will kind of grab at it,” Clark said of lemurs inspecting newborns. “Not aggressively, but because they’re curious and want to see it and sometimes that will cause the infant to fall and it can be injured accidentally.”
Transparent wire fencing separates mothers and their babies from the rest of their family members. The family members are allowed visual and olfactory contact, only — no touching.
In addition to 15 species of lemurs housed at the Lemur Center, the center keeps three species of prosimians — primates including lorises and bush babies.
A baby loris, too, was recently born. Its name is Warble.