Meet Beatrice of Swabia, the newest addition to a noble line of Coquerel’s Sifakas at Duke Lemur Center. She has a close-knit family: a five-year-old mother, Rodelinda, an eight-year-old father, Marcus, and an older sister, 23 month-old Bertha of Sulzbach. (Duke Lemur Center is certainly proud of their Sifakas: the whole family is named after Roman Emperors.)
Beatrice of Swbabia—Beatrice for short—is a healthy little heir. She weighed a respectable 107 grams at her birth on December 19th, and has since been growing in leaps and bounds. She clings tightly to her mother, another sign of good health, but also spends some time with her father and sister who hold and groom the new baby.
Sifakas are named for their distinctive “shif-auk!” call. They are known for their graceful sideways leaping across the ground, a dance that they share with ten other diurnal members of the lemur family Indriidae.
“Sifakas are really one of the Lemur Center’s flagship species,” says Andrea Katz, the Duke Lemur Center animal curator. The Duke Lemur Center was the first to ever successfully breed Sifakas. Only 56 Coquerel’s sifakas live in captivity. The Lemur Center owns every single one and manages them either on-site or through cooperative breeding loans with 9 other institutions across the United States.
“We’ve learned a lot over the years about sifaka behavior, breeding behavior, mother-infant behavior… I think it’s fair to say that the Lemur Center is really viewed as the expert on Sifaka breeding management.”
Take a leap across the fold!
Lemurs are endemic to Madagascar, meaning that they live naturally only on this one island. With a range of ecosystems from lush rainforest to arid highlands, Madagascar is a hotspot for biodiversity. About ninety percent of its flora and fauna are found nowhere else in the world, and it is home to over seventy different species of lemurs.
Since the arrival of humans on the island about two thousand years ago, ninety percent of Madagascar’s vegetation has been destroyed. Logging and unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture, driven by the poverty of native people, threatens the diversity of unique animals and plants found nowhere else in the world.
New babies like Beatrice are especially valuable to the continued research and conservation of this species. Coquerel’s Sifakas represent the only lemurs in the family Indriidae in captivity in North America. The Sifakas at the Lemur Center are also some of the only leaf-eating lemurs in captivity, making comparative studies on diet and nutrition possible.
The Lemur Center’s Registrar and Photographer, David Haring, is the Coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for Sifakas. The threshold for a sustainable captive population is set at 50 breeding individuals, so the population is hovering at the edge of sustainability. Still, with the world’s experts on sifaka care and more than half of the captive sifaka housed at the DLC, Beatrice has a bright future ahead.