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A Ring-tailed Lemur at the Zoo?

Categories: Animals, Conservation, Rescued Ring-tailed Lemur, Veterinary Exam

By Leslie Field, Supervisor of Mammals

In December 2015, the Sacramento Zoo was contacted by a resident of Turlock, California about a strange animal he found in his backyard. He had done research on the Internet and felt confident that the animal in question was a Ring-tailed Lemur, an endangered primate species. California Department of Fish and Wildlife became involved with the goal of capturing the animal and contacted us for our assistance with providing temporarily housing and care. Since being with the Zoo, the lemur has passed his quarantine period, had a full veterinary examination, received necessary vaccinations, and a clean bill of health. From his behavior, however, it is clear that he has not lived with other lemurs and that he is a product of the illegal pet trade.

Ring-tailed Lemurs are a non-human primate species found only on the Island of Madagascar. “Non-human primates” are prosimians (of which lemurs are only one type), monkeys and apes. It is illegal to possess a non-human primate in the State of California without a permit from Fish and Wildlife. There are an estimated 15,000 privately owned non-human primates in the United States alone.

The Sacramento Zoo and other similar facilities specialize in the care of exotic species and are well-equipped to care for all the needs of non-human primates – nutrition, social/behavioral, veterinary, space/housing, etc. Unfortunately, those who own them as pets are rarely able to manage this level of care. Below are just a few of the many reasons why personal ownership is unwise.

  • Most non-human primates naturally live in complex social groups and need contact from their own kind for optimal psychological health. Living alone with a human family does not make for a mentally healthy non-human primate.
  • Non-human primates that are hand-reared and/or kept alone in human households often demonstrate abnormal levels of aggression. These animals are very challenging to get to cohabitate with an appropriate non-human companion because they have very few non-human primate social skills.
  • Infants taken from their mothers often do not develop the skills necessary to raise their own young, creating a multi-generational cycle of rejected infants that must be raised by humans to physically survive.
  • Many diseases can be transferred between humans and non-human primates – some with severe or even fatal effects. Transmission of disease can occur via casual contact (food-sharing, kissing, hugging, bed-sharing), air-borne pathogens, or exposure to body fluids such as urine, saliva, feces, or blood. Some examples are Influenza, Tuberculosis, Measles, Herpes B and other viruses, and bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, and Yersinia. Parasitic infections include Giardia, Cryptosporidium, hookworms, and strongyles.

Besides the growing underground breeding market and animal auction houses, non-human primates are often poached from the wild. The dam is killed simply to take that one infant. In addition, many of those poached non-human primates die before ever reaching the illegal global market. More than half of the primate species in the world are listed as threated with extinction. Unless the demand for non-human primates in personal possession is eliminated, the trade will continue to exist as one of many threats to non-human primate species survival.

If you have the time and affection for animals, please adopt a companion from a local shelter. Dogs and cats have been domesticated by cultures for thousands of years and lend themselves to being our good friend. Non-human primates, and other exotic wildlife, do not have that same time frame of domestication and make very poor household companions.

As for the lemur, what happens now? The Sacramento Zoo is committed to his care and well-being while we work to place him in an appropriate home with other Ring-tailed Lemurs.

Ring-tailed Lemur. Photo by Mike Owyang.
His veterinary exam
Photo by Mike Owyang.