A female Mongoose Lemur, born at the Saint Louis Zoo on March 19, can now be seen by visitors as she plays with her mom, Dahlia, and dad, Snuffy, in the Zoo’s Primate House.
This is the first successful birth and rearing of a Mongoose Lemur at the Zoo, a milestone for the critically endangered species and a credit to the hundreds of hours of work contributed by the entire animal care team at the Primate House.
Known as “Princess Buttercup”, the baby is healthy and very energetic. However, her first few months of life started off a bit rocky, requiring round-the-clock care and feeding by the Zoo’s primate care staff.
Six-year-old Dahlia has previously been unsuccessful in raising her infants, so when this pregnancy was confirmed, primate keepers consulted with numerous colleagues and conservation organizations with extensive lemur experience for advice. After creating a comprehensive birth plan, a decision was made to intervene early after this birth.
From the beginning, Dahlia cared for the baby in every way except nursing. She groomed, kept her warm, and let Princess Buttercup hang onto her fur. The animal care staff hand fed formula to the 68.5-gram (about 2.4 ounces) newborn using a syringe and performed regular weigh-ins and check-ups to make sure she was gaining weight and progressing normally.
For the first three weeks, Princess Buttercup was fed every two hours and demanded almost constant attention. Through training and a trusting relationship between the keepers and the lemur parents, Dahlia and Snuffy allowed the keepers to feed, weigh and monitor their baby since her birth. At 3 ½ months old, she now receives three formula feedings a day and is trying out a variety of adult foods as well.
The entire team of dedicated primate keepers altered their schedules in order to provide 24-hour care for this new baby, making sure that she was healthy, comfortable and well fed.
“We are all thrilled that Princess Buttercup is thriving and that we were able to assist Dahlia in raising her baby,” said Mylisa Whipple, one of the primate unit keepers who was instrumental in preparing the birth plan. “It’s an exhausting process to raise a child – any parent can attest to this – but every Mongoose Lemur birth is extremely important for this endangered species and we wanted to do the absolute best for her. It’s an amazing feeling to see her doing so well after such a tough start.”
This birth is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Mongoose Lemur Species Survival Plan, a program to manage a genetically healthy population of Mongoose Lemurs in North American zoos. With Princess Buttercup’s birth, there are now a total of 68 Mongoose Lemurs in all AZA zoos (38 female, 30 male).
The Mongoose Lemur (Eulemur mongoz) is a critically endangered species native to the dry forests of northwestern Madagascar, where it searches for its diet of nectar, fruit, flowers and leaves. The small lemur weighs only 3 to 4 pounds as an adult.
Like many other lemurs, the Mongoose Lemur is in danger of extinction in the wild, due to continued habitat loss, as their forest homes are logged for timber and turned into farmland.
*The Saint Louis Zoo is home to the international headquarters of the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group, a consortium of zoos and aquariums committed to conserving lemurs and other wildlife species within their native habitat.