FROM ZOO TO YOU Preparing for baby … ruffed lemur that is

By Joe Knobbe

Lee Richardson Zoo recently welcomed its first lemur birth since the 2020 opening of Primate Forest. “Mafy”, a red ruffed lemur born on June 2 was also the first lemur birth of any kind in the Zoo’s 94-year history and a significant contribution to the long-term sustainability of the species.

After a pregnancy of about 102 days, ruffed lemurs typically give birth to one to five infants, while a litter of two or three is most common. Due to the challenges of having multiple infants, ruffed lemur mothers naturally ‘park’ their infants in nests high in the trees so they are free to rest and forage for food. They’re also known to carry the infants in their mouths from nest to nest. 

To make mother “Sorsha” as comfortable as possible in her choice of nesting locations, the Zoo’s maintenance staff constructed special nesting boxes that were placed throughout the habitat.

A couple of weeks before her expected due date, keepers began to offer Sorsha a variety of items that she could use as ‘nesting material’. Wild lemurs will use the back sides of their sharp canine teeth to cut soft branches and leaves, and then carry them in their mouths to pad their nests. It took a little practice at first, as Sorsha literally bit off more than she could chew by trying to carry full branches to an upper nest box. She even put a few enrichment toys in the nest!

On the morning of June 2, staff discovered Sorsha in her preferred nest box with a single, active, and healthy baby. Because it’s natural for mothers to park their infants while looking for food, keepers were able to examine the infant soon after birth and determined it was a boy. From the start, the infant was a feisty baby, opening his mouth to bare his tiny little teeth in a threat to the keepers, and even to his mother! Infants typically weigh 100 - 130 grams, about 3 ½ - 4 ½ ounces. This baby weighed in at a whopping 132 grams and within 10 days doubled his birth weight!

His rapid growth and development didn’t stop there as he was strong enough to peer from the nest box at eight days of age and by 11 days was already starting to venture onto the small branches just outside. He was already a handful for his mother, bouncing around her and protesting when she tried to reel him in. In recognition of this trait and in respect for his Madagascar heritage, staff chose the name “Mafy”, meaning tough in the native Malagasy language.

Joe Knobbe is the deputy director at Lee Richardson Zoo.

Knobbe