Unique experiment at Wild Place Project for endangered lemur
A unique experiment to see if endangered lemurs bred in captivity could adapt to life in the wild is taking place at Wild Place Project, near Bristol.
Bristol Zoological Society has devised a lemur boot camp to see if the animals have what it takes to survive on their own.
The two-month long experiment involves setting lemurs tests to see if they can find food, discover a way out of a 3D maze and work out how to peel vegetables.
The lemur boot camp is being overseen by Dr Christoph Schwitzer director of conservation at Bristol Zoological Society and a world expert on lemurs.
Dr Fay Clark, lecturer in animal behaviour and welfare at Bristol Zoological Society, who is leading on the project said: “We know that wild lemurs are adept at finding food in rich, spacious habitats but don’t fully understand how flexible lemurs can be at exploiting new areas and foods.
“We are investigating whether lemurs born and raised in zoos have essential skills needed to survive in the wild.”
Lemurs are only found on the island of Madagascar and are disappearing fast, due to habitat loss caused by deforestation and climate change.
Dr Clark added: “We are putting our Zoo lemurs through their paces with two tasks designed to resemble challenges they would face in the wild; in doing so we will assess whether captive lemurs have retained or lost evolved cognitive skills.”
Dr Clark said if they perform the challenges poorly then scientists will consider how to help them develop better survival skills.
She said: “We can think about ways to make sure lemurs are equipped with the tools they need to face their rapidly changing landscape.”
One of the tests, called False Fruit, involves hiding food in a container to see if the lemurs can find it and get it out.
The 12 lemurs at Wild Place Project (just off Junction 17 of the M5) are being studied on how they respond to different materials and how they react to artichokes, unshelled coconuts and cobs of corn with their leaves on.
Two MSc students from Bristol University Liv Pearson and Lucy Chivers are working on the project. Liv, 24, and Lucy, 23, have filmed more than 50 hours of footage which they will examine in detail.
The results of the Lemur Bootcamp study will be used to help conservationists in their fight to save lemurs.