It may be hard to believe, but there is a relationship between the tiniest primates on Earth and humans.
At only a few ounces, the hold-in-your-hand size mouse lemurs of Madagascar belong to the same family that includes monkeys, apes and homo sapiens – us.
We’re all primates, and while there are many different physical and behavioral characteristics among the primate species, we all have relatively large brains and a form of stereoscopic vision, and most have opposable thumbs. Unfortunately, many primates are also endangered in the wild, including gorillas and orangutans (both great apes), gibbons (lesser apes), and lemurs (among the prosimians).
Of 625 species and subspecies of primates, a quarter of them are at risk of extinction
Fortunately, however, there are many scientists around the world who are working to save primates, including Dr. Russell Mittermeier, one of the six finalists for the 2012 Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading award for animal conservation. Countless travels into the bush to count primate nest sites and walk the species’ habitat are all in a long day’s work for Russell A. Mittermeier, Ph.D., president of Conservation International. His success in increasing the primate population through his deep rooted knowledge of ecology, as well as coining the “biodiversity hotspots,” have made his name synonymous with conservation.
Russell Mittermeier was one of the first academic primatologists to become concerned with the sustainability and conservation of primates. He was also one of the first to see conservation synergies between field research, zoos, biomedical colonies, universities, government agencies and sanctuaries, and worked to increase and coordinate the contributions of all. Mittermeier personally arranged the legal importation of a group of rescued golden lion tamarins from Brazil to the United States in 1972. Many of these individuals became founders of the captive population, from which about 150 have been successfully reintroduced into the wild in Brazil using techniques based on his proposals.
One of Mittermeier’s most recent ideas has been to push the concepts of primate ecotourism – “primate-watching” and “primate life-listing” – based on the very successful global model of bird watching.
With the largest primate list in the world, he hopes to create the kind of enthusiasm and public interest in primates that has been achieved for birds over the past century, and to use that to bring more tourist dollars to the remote tropical regions where most primates occur. Mittermeier has also focused a lot of attention on new species discoveries, and has described three species of turtles, six species of Neotropical monkeys, and four species of lemurs with a number of collaborators, and has two lemurs, one lizard, four frogs and an ant named after him.
Yes, Mittermeier’s mouse lemur (Microcebus mittermeieri), one of 19 subspecies of this nocturnal and charming little primate, is named for this champion of biodiversity. Like all lemurs, it comes from Madagascar, and like all lemurs, it is endangered. The Indianapolis Zoo features five species of lemurs in its collection, some on exhibit and some involved in breeding programs behind-the-scenes at the Zoo. With their forward-facing and almost mystical eyes, along with their very agile and human-like hands, lemurs are not only the flagship species of Madagascar, they are very popular and iconic animals bringing the message of conserving the wildlife and wild places of this unique island ecosystem.
Zoo visitors can see ringtail, blue-eyed black and red-ruffed lemurs during the warm spring, summer and fall seasons and can appreciate that crowned and collared lemurs are being cared for in behind-the-scenes habitats. The Indianapolis Zoo has maintained a very successful lemur breeding program for many years, and the Zoo was the site of the only captive birth of a rare crowned lemur in 2011.
The winner of the 2012 Indianapolis Prize will be announced on June 14. The winner and all the finalists for the Prize will be celebrated at the spectacular Indianapolis Prize Gala presented by Cummins, Inc. on September 29, 2012, at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis.