Flamingo Land is celebrating the birth of two baby ring-tailed lemurs. The sex of the youngsters is unknown at present, as they are still being closely looked after by their mothers, but both appear healthy and are doing well. They can be seen clinging to their mothers as they move around the enclosure. Baby lemurs travel everywhere with their mother until they are old enough to move about independently and keep up with the rest of the troop.
Ring-tailed lemurs are probably the most easily recognised lemur, thanks to their black and white striped tail. They are also the most common lemur to be found in zoos worldwide. Lemurs are primates but are not closely related to other primates such as monkeys, gorillas or humans. They have eyes which are reflective at night, rely more on their sense of smell, have relatively small brains compared to other primates, have wet noses and possess a unique feature known as a toothcomb, which is used for grooming. All lemurs are endemic to Madagascar, where it is thought that just a few members of an ancestral species arrived 50-60 million years ago. Since then they have evolved in isolation from other primates for millions of years and haven’t had to compete with monkeys or apes. Although not endangered, ring-tailed lemurs are considered to be threatened in the wild because the scrubby forest they live in is being destroyed by slash and burn agriculture.
Ring-tailed lemurs mostly eat fruit, leaves and flowers, with occasional insects. In the wild their particular favourite is tamarind, although the Flamingo Land lemurs are very fond of grapes. They are the most terrestrial of all lemurs, meaning that they spend more time on the ground and less in the trees. They are active during the day so visitors to Flamingo Land are likely to see our lemurs out and about, although it has to be said that they prefer warm, sunny weather! They like to sunbathe, sitting upright and turning their tummies, which have shorter white fur, to the sun and can often be seen doing this to warm up on a cold morning.
Ring-tailed lemurs are social and live in groups of up to 30 individuals. Groups will sit in a huddle, both to keep warm and to reinforce social bonds. Like all lemurs, they rely heavily on their sense of smell and will mark their territories with scent. Males will also rub their tails between scent glands on their wrists and then waft the smell at each other in a stink fight. In the wild, ring-tailed lemurs will sometimes pick up poisonous millipedes and rub themselves all over with the foul-smelling liquid the millipede produces – the lemur equivalent of insect repellent!