April 20, 2005Making his public debut last week at the
Bristol Zoo Gardens, Kintana is the United Kingdom's first captive-bred aye-aye lemurand only the second in history to be reared
by humans (his mother wasn't very motherly).
Even at this tender age, Kintana brandishes outlandish adaptations for survival in lemurs' only native home, the African island of Madagascar. In the forest the aye-aye's batlike ears can detect insect larvae squirming inside trees. A bark-breaking bite from tough incisors and a subsequent probe with a long, bony second digit seals the meal.
That adaptation is more curse than blessing for some of these tree dwellers, which are beaten by Madagascan villagers who see the crooked claw as a harbinger of death. Farmers too get their licks, persecuting the world's largest nocturnal primates for their night raids on sweet crops like coconuts and sugarcane. Also, some Madagascans hunt the 4.5-pound (2-kilogram) aye-ayes for their meat.
But the aye-aye's greatest threat is deforestation, which is largely responsible for its listing as endangered on the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Speciesand which may one day make captive births crucial to the species's survival.
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