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The Importance of Zoos to Lemur Conservation

June is National Zoo and Aquarium Month in the United States. To celebrate, here are some reasons why zoos are vital to lemur conservation, and will play an ever-increasing role in the story of lemur conservation going forward.

Managed Breeding of Lemurs at Zoos

Ring-tailed lemur family group at the Jacksonville Zoo.

Ring-tailed lemur family group at the Jacksonville Zoo.

All accredited North American and European zoos (as well as accredited reserves like Lemur Conservation Foundation and Duke Lemur Center) participate in managed breeding programs with their lemur species. This means that the genetic history of all lemurs under their care are carefully logged and tracked, and breeding recommendations are made based on this information. All of the lemurs are managed as whole, not necessarily just by individual institutions. This is to ensure the best genetic diversity among captive populations, which leads to healthy and long-living lemurs around the world.

The ultimate, long-term goal of these breeding programs is to act as a safeguard against a species’ possible extinction in the wild, and to maybe one day release some lemurs back into the wild. This has already happened with a group of black-and-white ruffed lemurs born at Duke Lemur Center!

Zoos Supporting Lemur Conservation

Zoos also support many on-the-ground conservation efforts in Madagascar, both with finances and expertise. Many zoos have conservation funds set up that donate money to worthy conservation organizations around the globe, and zoos send staff to wild places around the world to lend a hand and some expertise to the conservationists working for these organizations.

Crowned lemur at MFG's Parc Ivoloina in Madagascar.

Crowned lemur at MFG’s Parc Ivoloina in Madagascar.

The Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group (MFG) unites zoos and aquariums worldwide to conserve the wildlife of Madagascar. With the help of its many partners – and thanks to the membership dues that these organizations provide – MFG manages Parc Ivoloina (a 282 hectare area) and the Rendrirendry Research Station at the Betampona Natural Reserve, both of which are in eastern Madagascar. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo is a major supporter of lemur conservation through their financing of Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership.

Education and Inspiration at Zoos

The funds donated from zoos to conservation organizations are often raised from small donations from the general public, who are inspired to do their part to help protect lemurs from the education and up-close encounters they experience at the zoo.

Many people will never have the opportunity to see wild lemurs in Madagascar in person, so zoos give these people the opportunity to see lemurs up close, learn about them, and be inspired to take action. We will only conserve what we love, we will only love what we understand, and we will only understand what we are taught.

Zoos are the storefronts for conservation. The average person will not have heard of the important work of the in situ conservation organizations around the world if it weren’t for zoos promoting their work. The fact is, conservation organizations are typically small, low-funded organizations. Whatever funding they do receive goes directly to their conservation work. Not much is left over in the budget for marketing. But zoos have millions of visitors and millions of followers on social media. And since zoos and conservation organizations share common conservation messages, and zoos publicize their partnerships with these organizations, that is publicity money can’t buy.

Lemur island at Naples Zoo.

Lemur island at Naples Zoo.

In addition to raising funds, zoos also educate visitors on other things they can do from home to protect lemurs and their habitat, such as supporting sustainably-farmed Madagascan products like chocolate and vanilla, carefully researching wood products they buy to ensure none of it comes illegally from Madagascan forests, or not supporting the illegal lemur pet trade by sharing videos or pictures on social media.

Over the last couple of years, many zoos around the world have hosted events in celebration of the World Lemur Festival. These events bring special attention to lemurs at the zoo, the plight of lemurs in the wild, and the efforts being taken to save them in the wild.

Conservation is ultimately up to the general public to all work together and make small changes that together can make a huge difference for wildlife. And no places in the world can have a bigger impact than zoos. 181 million people a year visit AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited zoos in the U.S. alone. That is more than the annual combined attendance of all four major U.S. pro sports games.

Considering the Lemur Action Plan called for $7 million to save lemurs from extinction in the wild, if even 25% of these 181 million people donated just $1, that entire amount could be raised!

So this month, consider visiting your local zoo. It could be a life-changing experience for you and your family, and could save the lives of many lemurs as well.

Take Action

  • Visit your local zoo and aquarium and consider donating to one of their conservation causes
  • Learn more about the LCN member zoos, and support their conservation work

IMG_1886 (1)About the Author

Corey Romberg is the former Director of the Lemur Conservation Network. He has almost a decade of experience working in the zoo field in education, animal care, and public relations. He works for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and served as an Education Advisor for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group.

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