Denver Zoo welcomed a rare baby Aye-aye and is now home to three of these unusual creatures. With only 24 residing in seven zoos in the United States and an unknown number in the wild, Aye-ayes are among the rarest animals in the world. The new baby, a female, is named Tonks and was born on August 8.
Tonks, who was born to mom Bellatrix and dad Smeagol, is healthy and thriving; however, her first days were worrying for Denver Zoo’s animal care staff and veterinarians.
“We noticed that Bellatrix wasn’t showing typical mothering behaviors, so we decided to step in to give Tonks some supportive care,” said Lead Primate Keeper Becky Sturges. “We provided 24-hour care for the first week and had to teach Bellatrix how to nurse, but now she is nursing well and Tonks has gained a lot of weight. Now we’re just monitoring them to make sure things continue to go well.”
Aye-ayes are born weighing just a few ounces, grow to a weight of five pounds as adults, and live up to 20 years.
Tonks is still in the nest box with Bellatrix and is not expected to emerge for a few more months, so she is not yet visible to zoo guests.
Aye-ayes have a distinctive appearance, thanks to a number of unique adaptations including coarse dark hair, a long bushy tail, rodent-like teeth, large eyes, and bony hands that feature extra-long middle fingers. The middle fingers are used to tap on tree branches and locate hollow spaces that may contain grubs. After chewing a hole in the branch, the grubs are extracted using the clawed fingertips.
Aye-ayes are classified as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species and are found only in remote parts of Madagascar. They were thought to be extinct in 1933, but were rediscovered in 1957. Their odd appearance caused Aye-ayes to be labeled as harbingers of death in Madagascan traditional cultures, and the animals were often killed on sight. The dramatic loss of Madagascar’s original forest cover has also contributed to Aye-ayes’ Endangered status.