The Houston Zoo welcomed a rare baby Coquerel's Sifaka, born on
January 28 to mother Zenobia and father Gaius. The baby weighed only 3.4 ounces (96 grams) at birth, and staff have been paying close attention to be sure it is nursing well and staying healthy. The goal is for it to reach about
7-8 pounds in adulthood. Houston Zoo Keepers have studied Sifakas in depth and learned that the key to preventing infant mortality was directly related to its steady weight gain.
For the next three to four weeks, the infant will cling to its mother's belly for warmth and access to nutrition. Babies can decline in weight easily and weaken their grip on Mom’s fur as they lose strength. To prevent this, Keepers know to intervene if even a few grams are lost. That means Zoo vets must weigh the baby regularly and give needed fluids if necessary. In a quick and simple process, a decline can be reversed and the baby goes right back to mom. Then, for three to four months more, it will switch to riding on her back.
Photo Credit: Photo 1,Tina Carpenter/Houston Zoo, Photos 2,3,4,5: Stephanie Adams
Sifakas are from the Lemur family and are classified as Endangered in the wild. The species is from Madagascar, where deforestation has been getting worse every year and therefore poses a threat to their habitat, and thus their survival.
Read more about the weighing process and see more pictures after the fold:
Removing the infant from Mom is most challenging; it has to be done with lightning speed. Staff has worked with Zenobia using positive reinforcement throughout her pregnancy to help her be more comfortable with this process, but it is still a daunting task. Once the infant is removed from Mom, it's placed on a small stuffed surrogate so that it immediately has something like a mom to cling to. Then it is weighed on a gram scale. Keepers wear masks and gloves so that no danger of cross-contamination is present. Once a weight is obtained, the baby is given right back to Zenobia.
These primates have dangerous teeth and claws which they will use if they feel the baby is being threatened, so the success of this process is a real accomplishment for the staff, and a testament to their sensitivity, and training expertise. All is done in the name of the best care and conservation of this species.