“Look! King Julian!”
“I like to move it, move it! I like to move it, move it!”
These are just a few phrases I often hear when I’m working in the lemur exhibit here at Oakland Zoo. While movies such as “Madagascar” and “The Lion King” may foster an interest of wild animals in their young audience, they don’t provide any actual knowledge of the animals starring in them.
And that’s where I get to perform one of the cool parts of my job as a keeper- to interact with our guests and provide actual facts about these amazing beings!
First I get to tell them there would not be a King Julian in lemur society! There would be a Queen Julianne instead. Just like several other awesome species such as elephants, meerkats and hyenas, lemurs are matriarchal, which means the ladies are in charge! And in our troop of ring-tailed lemurs, Amy is the boss!
While observing our lemurs look for the lemur that is always paying attention to everyone else, whose tail is always pointing straight up or forward and who is always first at meal time- that’s Amy. She will be the one who decides where to forage, when to sit in the sun and when to groom. Her twin daughters Kristina and Jennifer along with their buddy Jaeger defer to her decisions about their daily life. If not, she may deliver a stern look or possibly chase the misbehaving individual if necessary. Notice the body posture of the other lemurs. Because Amy is always on duty, they can be a little more relaxed, with their tails curled over their backs in a question mark as they forage, groom or sun themselves.
Next, I tell our guests lemurs DO like to move it! But our lemurs don’t move it just for the fun of it- they move to live! Wild animals have jobs to do. Their job is to protect their territory, find food and a safe place to live and raise their young. In the wild this is a full time job. In captivity, many of these normal behaviors are fulfilled by their keepers- we provide them with a safe place to live, the right diet and social group. The keeper’s job is to find ways in which the animals in our care can perform these natural behaviors. We call it “enrichment”. Enrichment encompasses a wide variety of options and can include;
Manual manipulation- We may put their diet in a “puzzle feeder” or boxes so they have to use physical and mental skills to get their food.
Changes in their environment – We can move or change the “furniture” in their exhibit to keep their environment complex and stimulating.
Sensory stimulation – straw or bedding from another animal enclosure, or even spices or perfume, can be put into their exhibit to add novel and unique experiences.
Feeding options- a keeper may scatter an animal’s diet in the grass or skewer items onto branches throughout their exhibit, so the animal will have to forage to find their diet items, allowing the them to feed in a natural manner.
And the list can go on and on! These are just a few of the many ways keepers provide necessary and very important enrichment activities, providing the proper psychological wellbeing for our animals. I think I can speak for the rest of my coworkers- enrichment is one of the favorite aspects of our jobs!
Next time you are visiting Oakland Zoo, take a moment to check out our lemurs moving it around our exhibit. Is Queen Amy leading the troop to forage in the plum trees or initiating a mutual grooming session? Has their keeper given them their diet in a box or scattered it about their exhibit? If it’s a sunny day you might see them sitting in a “Buddha” like pose- soaking up the springtime sun! No matter what, you’re bound to see real lemurs “moving it” just like real lemurs should!
Do you want to get up close and personal with our lemurs here at the Zoo? Purchase a raffle ticket (or two!) to win such a one-of-a-kind experience! During your visit, our lemurs will actually paint a work of art for you to keep. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase tickets. All proceeds from the raffle go to conservation of lemurs in the wild.