DURHAM — Last October, the Duke Lemur Center experienced a huge loss when four aye-ayes died from a toxin. The center has a glimmer of hope now with the announcement of an aye-aye birth.
Agatha, named after mystery writer Agatha Christie, was born June 7 weighing two-thirds of the typical birth weigh for aye-ayes. The center decided to make the news public Sept. 21, since Agatha is thriving now, according to Sara Clark, the center’s communications director.
“It was really really hard last October,” Clark said. “The pain is still there, but there’s a sense of larger purpose and mission in our commitment to the aye-aye’s survival as a species, and Agatha symbolizes that mission, and that hope moving forward. They all have their distinctive personalities and aye-ayes are so smart. For the most part, they’re a gentle, wonderful species of lemur. Everyone was just reeling. That’s why Agatha was so amazing. She represents so much.”
The Duke Lemur Center is excited to have a new addition.
“I haven’t been this happy about the birth of a baby primate since my son was born,” Duke Lemur Center director Anne Yoder said.
The center worked around the clock to bring up Agatha’s weight when she was born.
“Agatha was a unique case,” Cathy Williams, veterinarian at the Duke Lemur Center, said. “She required intervention by the veterinary staff to provide supplemental warmth and formula until she gained enough strength that she could return to her mom full time.”
Since aye-ayes are rare, there are few studies about care for underweight or sick lemurs. Clark credits the veterinary staff for their experience to care for Agatha.
“Fortunately, one of our vets has been here for 21 years and the other has been here for 11 years and the lemur center is a pioneering place that has raised and cared for aye-ayes,” Clark said. “It was a result of that hands-on experience that we were able to get Agatha what she needed. She’s thriving now.”
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Clark explained they are keeping a close eye on Agatha, but this is common for all the lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center.
“We do monitor all our animals very, very closely, so the technicians will certainly be aware of Agatha’s past history,” Clark said. “She doesn’t have any residual effects from being born underweight.
“She’s great now. That is why we waited three months to announce her birth. We just now released the birth because we wanted to make sure everything was fine.”
Agatha will continue to stay with her mom for the next two to three years to gain survival skills. Her future beyond that is unknown. She may be sent to another lemur center for mating or stay with her mom at the DLC if they cohabitate well. She will not be released in the wild.
“She will stay living in human care. Aye-ayes in Madagascar are endangered and part of that is habitat loss, and another part is that some people in Madagascar see them as an evil element and kill aye-ayes,” Clark said. “We have a genetic safety so that if the aye-aye goes extinct in Madagascar it won’t go extinct everywhere.”
Clark explained lemurs are an important component of Madagascar’s ecosystem, helping with pollination. Lemurs are also an ancient primate and that can help researchers better understand human health, especially in terms of color vision and dementia.
Visitors won’t be able to see Agatha, since the aye-ayes on display are carefully selected. Two aye-ayes, Endora and Ozma, can be seen on a scheduled tour.