Four aye-aye lemurs die suddenly at Duke Lemur Center

Posted October 26, 2016
Updated October 27, 2016

Four aye-aye lemurs died suddenly at the Duke Lemur Center.

— Four aye-aye lemurs died suddenly at the Duke Lemur Center on October 25 and 26, center officials said in a news release. There are fewer than 50 aye-ayes in captivity in the world.

“We had 13 and now we have nine,” said Andrea Katz, the Lemur Center’s animal curator. “This is a significant percentage of the aye-ayes in the U.S. at this time.”

The lemurs, two males and two females, ranged in age from 7 to 28 years and were named in a horror movie theme because of their appearance and nocturnal nature. Morticia, 28, Norman Bates, age 7.5, Merlin, age 22, and Angelique, age 11, died in the center’s emergency room.

“We have experienced a tragedy,” said Lemur Center Director Anne Yoder. “The staff is devastated.This kind of loss is one of the awful consequences of this great responsibility we carry.”

Operations Director Greg Dye said a technician noticed lethargic behavior around 3 p.m. Tuesday, and two animals were transported to the center’s emergency room. “The first one died within 20 minutes of being brought to our hospital,” Dye said.

Video camera footage show the animals became ill very suddenly.

“Until about two o’clock yesterday afternoon, their behavior looked normal,” Dye said. “A fifth aye-aye housed in the same area is under observation.”

The three other lemurs died within 24 hours of the first. No other animals in the center have been affected, and the nine remaining aye-aye lemurs seem to be unaffected. The staff is monitoring all 250 lemurs in the center, and public tours will continue as normal.

Duke’s Lemur Center pioneered the breeding of aye-ayes in captivity. Three of the four that died were born at Duke.

Dye said the investigation of the possible cause of death will look at the air in the enclosure, the animals’ food and toys. The center plans to send tissue and blood specimens for pathology and toxicology exams.

“What happened here is important for all of the aye-aye breeding colonies in the world,” Katz said. “I hope we can learn something that will prevent this from ever happening again.”

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  • Linda Levine Oct 26, 2016
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    I am really sorry to hear of the loss. I visited the center in June and they are doing some really good work. I hope they are able to determine the cause and not lose any additional lemurs.