Calgary·Video

Land of Lemurs lands at the Calgary Zoo

Meet the fuzzy new residents of the Calgary Zoo at the Land of Lemurs exhibit, which opened Wednesday

New exhibit puts a focus on conservation and cuteness

The Land of Lemurs exhibit is the first of its kind in Canada, giving visitors a chance to interact with the animals and meet them up close. 0:33

There are three new species of furry little friends at the Calgary Zoo now that the Land of Lemurs is open for business.

The first of its kind in Canada and the first new exhibit to open at the zoo in five years, Land of Lemurs allows visitors to enter the lemurs' habitat and interact with the cute little creatures in a barrier-free setting.

Land of Lemurs is home to 13 lemurs from three endangered species. Fans of the Madagascar movies or the children's show Zoboomafoo will be familiar with the ring-tailed lemur, but there are also black-and-white ruffed and red-fronted lemurs leaping and lounging in the new exhibit, which opened Wednesday.

Population and conservation

Trish Exton-Parder with the Calgary Zoo said Land of Lemurs offers more than a chance to get up close and personal with some cuddly creatures. The zoo is hoping to help increase the population of these endangered species by helping fund conservation programs in Madagascar.

"First of all, the reason that we're having lemurs is because they are one of the most endangered primates … and a really important species for us to make everybody aware of in Madagascar," Exton-Parder told the Calgary Eyeopener.

Ring-tailed lemurs are one of the three endangered species of lemur at the Calgary Zoo's Land of Lemur exhibit. Found only in Madagascar, lemurs are one of the most endangered primates. (Calgary Zoo)

Out of the 101 known lemur species, about 94 per cent are at risk of extinction. Madagascar has lost upward of 80 per cent of its original forest due to farming, logging and mining practices, posing a threat to the lemur population in the wild.

Experts believe that if changes aren't made, many lemur species could be extinct in the wild by 2050.

In an effort to increase the wild lemur population, the zoo will be working to develop tree nurseries to aid in reforestation, assisting with population monitoring in the wild and working with the people of Madagascar to integrate green technologies in their communities to preserve the lemurs' habitat.

Helping the habitat  

"These kinds of community conservation programs help us link what we're doing here to help people learn about these endangered species and know that we're going to make an incredible impact where their homeland is in Madagascar," Exton-Parder said.

But the lemurs' aren't completely defenceless.

Lemurs in the wild are also helping out with reforestation by eating plant life and spreading the seeds through their droppings.

"(Lemurs) are critical to disperse the seeds of plants and the fruits they're consuming," said Dr. Clément Lanthier, president and CEO of the Calgary Zoo. "And when the seeds pass their digestive track ... the probability of those plants to propagate well in the forest will significantly increase."

The black-and-white ruffed lemur is the most endangered of the three species at the Calgary Zoo. The lemurs will eventually be part of a breeding program. (CBC)

Of the three species at the new exhibit, the black-and-white ruffed lemurs are most endangered, and Exton-Parder said the Calgary Zoo will eventually be part of a breeding program to help get their numbers up in captivity.

"So what's even cuter than a lemur? Perhaps a baby one," Exton-Parder said.

Calgarians can get to know the residents in the Land of Lemurs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.