A small population of ring-tailed lemurs lives on the north end of St Catherine’s Island. The animals are descendents of a handful of ancestors that originally lived in the Bronx Zoo and Duke University. The lemurs are free-ranging but receive daily dietary supplements (fruit and “primate biscuit”) and regular veterinary attention. They have been on the island since 1985.
The lemurs’ social behavior is very similar to that found in the wild — they live in matriarchal groups that keep to a home territory. The matriarch and her daughters are usually the dominant animals within the group. Social rank is therefore determined by kinship (and, secondarily, by reproduction — not having babies knocks down a female’s rank). Males are subordinate to females. They live with the group for their first few months, then disperse and try to join other groups.
The lemurs on St Catherine’s are not “tame” (no touching allowed) but they seem to have no fear of humans, frequently approaching very close. This opens the door to interesting studies of their lives and primatologists travel here from across the world to observe the lemurs’ behavior. Most of the animals have individually colored radio-collars. These chunky necklaces appear to cause them no discomfort and allow researchers to track each animal.