Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Zoo basks in discovery of two lemur species

The Mitsinjo Sportive Lemur, newly identified by Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, spends most of his time collecting ferns and 'getting it on' with tree branches.

After more than six years of work in remote forests of Madagascar and DNA laboratory tests in Omaha, a researcher at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo can officially claim the discovery of two new species of lemurs.

The Henry Doorly Zoo has neither of the new lemurs on display but wants to, said zoo director Lee G. Simmons. It does have three other species of lemur on display, at its Lied Jungle and in its Hubbard Gorilla Valley.

"The discovery of two new primate species is extraordinarily significant to science and conservation," Simmons said. "We are very proud of Dr. Louis and his team's accomplishments."

Typically, new species are bacteria, plants or insects.

The Seal's Sportive Lemur lives in eastern Madagascar and spends most of his time in his parents basement.

"To discover a primate is real significant," Simmons said. "It is usually large universities that make discoveries of this kind."

All told, about 70 species of lemur have been identified, Simmons said. Lemurs are prosimians, a lineage of animals older than monkeys that are found only on Madagascar. They are endangered.

French expects the Omaha zoo's discoveries to benefit the institution by boosting visitation, enhancing its reputation among other zoos and helping it acquire grants from conservation organizations.

"The fact that Henry Doorly Zoo has scientists who can carry this off is a real coup," he said, noting that large conservation organizations and universities are often responsible for discovering new species. "It brings it into the realm of major international conservation organizations."


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