May 4, 2021
By Meghan Hoopes, Education Programs Coordinator at Brandywine Zoo
After well over a year of construction and preparation, the Brandywine Zoo is bringing a tiny slice of Madagascar to Wilmington. The brand-new Madagascar exhibit represents the largest single investment ever made in the zoo and features three lemur species: ring-tailed, black and white ruffed, and crowned lemurs, as well as radiated tortoises and guinea fowl.
If you are more familiar with Madagascar, the movie in which penguins are spies and King Julien likes to “move it move it”, than Madagascar the country, here is a quick introduction. Madagascar is an island country off the coast of eastern Africa and is close to the size of Texas in terms of area (116 times bigger than Delaware!) Madagascar is home to a host of unique plants and animals; 90% of the plant and animal species, including lemurs, found on Madagascar are endemic, meaning they are only found there. Quite literally, Madagascar is like nowhere else on earth.
Four of Madagascar’s most iconic lemurs – the ring-tailed lemurs – now call the Brandywine Zoo home. Tyrion, Khal, Bran, and Jamie (yes, they are all named after Game of Thrones characters, but hopefully they come with a lot less drama) are brothers. Tyrion and Jamie are twins, and Bran and Khal are twins, but they all share the same dad. Lemurs are matriarchal, meaning that females are in charge of the social groups, but it is common for young males to split from the troops they are born into and live in smaller bachelor troops, groups of all males. These brothers are close, and sleep huddled close together at night for warmth.
The largest of the three lemur species living at the Brandywine Zoo is the black and white ruffed lemurs. The large ruffs around their head both give them their name, but also the title as the world’s largest pollinator. As they feed on flowers and leaves, pollen sticks to their ruffs and gets transported from tree to tree. Many hardwood and palm trees native to Madagascar rely on these furry pollinators. The three that live at the zoo are the brothers AJ and Rees, and a female Beans. The boys tend to be curious and are eager to work with their keepers, but Beans is much more mellow and prefers to do her own thing.
A pair of crowned lemurs, Kipp and Sophie, will be easy for visitors to identify! Crowned lemurs are sexually dichromatic, which means the males and females are different colors. As a male, Kipp is reddish-brown with a red and black “crown” of fur on his head. Sophie, a female, is mainly gray with a red “crown”. The two stand out in personality as well! Sophie is much more willing to try new things, while Kipp tends to watch and follow Sophie’s lead!
Currently, three radiated tortoises live in the new Madagascar exhibit. Toliara, or Toli for short, Atsimo, and Astro. Unfortunately, radiated tortoises are often taken out of the wild illegally to be sold as pets worldwide. In fact, Toliara and Atsimo are both named for areas of Madagascar where this illegal poaching happens most often. It’s nice to know that these tortoises, at least, can look forward to living in a beautiful new home.
If you visit the Madagascar exhibit, the Guinea fowl are what you are most likely to hear first. This chatty flock of birds like to walk the edges of the exhibit and then dig into the dirt to find bugs and create cozy piles of dirt to lay in. Guinea fowl are not native to Madagascar, however, they are often kept domestically in many parts of Africa, including Madagascar. They are used for their meat and eggs, for pest control, and for the use of their beautiful polka-dot feathers. If you don’t see them, check in some of the other exhibits – the Guinea fowl are rooming with some of the other animals until the new grass growing in the Madagascar exhibit has had a chance to grow in!
If you are looking for the best time to see the lemurs, and the rest of the Madagascar exhibit residents, we suggest keeping an eye on the weather report. For their health, the lemurs and the tortoises may not be outside in low temperatures, or in rainy or especially windy weather. As the weather warms up, we hope you will join us at the Brandywine Zoo to visit our lemurs and the new Madagascar Exhibit!