The newest furry faces at the Tennessee Aquarium will officially begin delighting guests in the Tropical Cove on March 1, but efforts to bring them to Chattanooga, get them acquainted with keepers (and each other), and acclimate them to their new habitat began months ago.
After an intense research and planning process that led to the initial design of Lemur Forest, preparations began to bring two groups of Ring-tailed Lemurs and one pair of Red-ruffed Lemurs to the Aquarium. While the construction of the front of the exhibit finished up just over a week ago, a holding facility to house the lemurs was built last summer. Our animal experts sought advice and design input from experienced lemur keepers and experts from other accredited zoos and aquariums.
We challenged ourselves to provide a spacious and enriching exhibit that gives the lemurs a lot of choices while giving our guests a variety of ways to observe their fascinating behaviors.
When the lemurs began to arrive at the Aquarium from other institutions back in August, lemur expert Chelsea Feast even spent the night in the holding area to make sure the first group of (Ring-tailed) lemurs to arrive was comfortable in their new surroundings.
“They fully explored their stalls and scent-marked every inch of the space throughout the night,” according to Feast, who saw this as a good sign. “After catching up on much needed sleep, the group became very active. They played with the various enrichment items and enjoyed all of their perches and furniture.”
Behind the scenes, the lemurs have one of the finest high-rises in Tennessee. The lemur care facility features large skylights and numerous windows overlooking the Tennessee River. They enjoy basking in the sunlight and watching boats passing by. They especially enjoyed watching IRONMAN competitors swimming and transitioning to the cycling portion of the event.
Once the second species, a pair of Red-ruffed Lemurs, was introduced to the space, keepers observed a lot of interaction between the groups - looking at each other and vocalizing toward each other from their respective spaces, which gave them confidence to move forward with introductions.
The first step to introducing different lemur populations is putting them in spaces right next to each other. This allows physical contact in a protected setting, with experts monitoring any interactions. As with all animal introductions, our team lets the animals determine the pace and direction of introductions.
Once relationships were established, both the Red-ruffs and each group of Ring-tails proved to be quick learners during their twice-daily training sessions. Keepers continuously work with both species on several behaviors including: point following, stepping onto a scale, sitting calmly in an assigned “station” or spot and shifting between stalls. All of these behaviors are important either to monitoring their health and/or getting them ready for life in the new exhibit. Additionally, the Red-ruffs - known for their incredibly strong back feet - practice hanging upside down from branches on cue.
This relationship building between animals and experts took place while the public exhibit space was being built literally in the next room.
Aquarium visitors can finally explore Lemur Forest for themselves, though we suggest anyone planning a visit will want to start exercising their neck muscles now. According to keepers, introductions to the exhibit over the past week have gone well with each group spending most of their time up high, which is a natural tendency for lemurs.
The Ring-tailed Lemurs inhabit the southern end of the exhibit, often snuggling up into what experts call a “lemur ball.” Meanwhile, the Red-Ruffs seem to be enjoying the northern end, hanging upside down from the towering tree built into the habitat. Special branches were even molded to fit their back feet for just this purpose.
You can learn more about these amazing lemur species and even meet a lemur keeper during new daily programs at 11 am and 3 pm.