Lemurs in stress study

Three black lemurs at DZG are key players in a study to measure stress levels in endangered small primates.

dzg_black_lemurwebThe trio – two males and a female – were observed for eight hours a day over a five day period by Oxford Brookes graduate, Meaghan Fleischli.   Meaghan’s studies, which form part of her dissertation, compare hormone levels in captive black lemurs housed in single-species and mixed-species enclosures by measuring physiological stress through the glucocorticoid levels found in their faeces.    DZG has a keen interest in Meaghan’s work, as Senior Curator Derek Grove – pictured right with Meaghan – co-ordinates the Black lemur European Endangered species Programme (EEP) and has collated and produced an annual European studbook for the past 15 years.  

Derek said: “Following Meaghan’s study we will look into the relevant information from her findings and, ultimately, it may affect future husbandry guidelines for the 168 Black lemurs currently in 57 collections across Europe.”

Meaghan, who is studying towards an M.Sc in Primate Conservation, collated information from four UK zoos – DZG, Drusillas Zoo Park, Exmoor Zoo and Isle of Wight Zoo, as well as an overseas collaboration with the Duke Lemur Center in USA.

She observed the lemurs’ normal behaviour including resting, sleeping, feeding, grooming and visitor interactions recording her findings every five minutes.    She also collected two faecal samples from each Black lemur in the Small Primate House and Lemur Wood every day.     dzg_black_lemurweb   Meaghan, from California, who is set to begin veterinary school in her native USA from August, said: “Hormone levels can vary over a 24 hour period, so it was important to get a sample in the morning and afternoon from every lemur to compare.”   On her return to university, the 26 year-old will carry out a hormone isolation process, freeze-drying and pulverising the samples, before mixing them with methanol to isolate the hormone. She will then extract the necessary data, re-freeze them and send them to the German Primate Centre for analysis.    The results will be submitted as her end-of-year dissertation and distributed to participating zoos, as well as being published in Zoo Biology and the International Journal of Zoology and Physiology and Behaviour.  

As EEP co-ordinator for Black lemurs DZG works hard to support the conservation of all lemurs. Over the past decade DZG has donated more than £8,000 to the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG), an international consortium of zoos and related institutions working together to conserve Madagascar’s lemurs, including Black lemurs, which are classed as a vulnerable species due to the threat of deforestation.