View from the Zoo: Limiting the number of lemurs

The ring tailed lemur is a very social species and could live in groups of up to 30 individuals.
The ring tailed lemur is a very social species and could live in groups of up to 30 individuals.

Within the lemur enclosure at Flamingo Land there are three species; ring-tailed, red bellied and mongoose. These three species all share the same indoor house, although it does have separate rooms inside.

Zoos have to provide an adequate amount of shelter for their zoo animals, therefore, we have a limit on the amount of lemurs we can house. In 2015 we had six ring tail babies born, taking our current number up to 20 individuals. Staff decided that we would not want the lemurs to have babies again next year; partially to limit their numbers, but also so that they would not have to try to rehome any and to prevent them from breeding with relatives. The solution which they decided on was to implant the male lemurs with contraception.

For this process to happen the keepers had to separate the male lemurs from the females and immature individuals so that they were able to catch them up indoors and allow the vet to carry out the procedure. They are still separated from the group to allow the contraceptive to come into effect, but they will soon be able to join them again.

All lemurs are found on the island of Madagascar, Africa. The ring tailed lemur is a very social species and could live in groups of up to 30 individuals. The group is organised into a hierarchy with the females being at the top and males at the bottom.

Ring tailed lemurs are the most popular lemur for zoos to keep in captivity due to their social nature. It is thought that there are around 2,000 individuals in captivity, but in the wild they are classed as endangered and their population has dropped by around half in the last 36 years. Their main threat is habitat destruction due to land being cleared for livestock.

It isn’t just lemurs for which zoos would use contraceptive. It is an important technique which can be used to manage a range of captive animals. Although many zoo animals are endangered in the wild, breeding programmes and management plans are in place to prevent overbreeding, ensure that the genetics are kept as diverse as possible and so that every animal born would have a new home lined up or a plan in place for their future.