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Conservation of Madagascan Fauna in Captivity

From: 5th Annual Report of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust (now Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), 1968, pp. 51-54.
Online publishing with kind permission of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Jersey.
© Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Online conversion by David Kupitz.

For fifty million years the fauna and flora of Madagascar has evolved in isolation from Continental Africa. The lemurs, a group of primitive primates found nowhere else in the world, except on the adjacent Comoro Islands, are perhaps the most spectacular of the country's resources, and constitute one of the most interesting groups of animals anywhere in the world. In spite of the Malagasy Republic's extensive but under-financed national parks and reserves, more than half the valid species and subspecies are already listed in the I.U.C.N. Red Data Book as "rare and endangered". Other equally important fauna endemic to the island is also threatened, mainly due to the widespread and rapid degragation of the natural habitat.

To tie up with the Trust's objective to try and build up colonies of threatened species under controlled conditions, it has been decided to specialise with both lemurs and tenrecs at the Jersey Zoo. Special accomodation has been designed to house our collection of Madagascan fauna, which is thought to be the largest in the British Isles, and one of the most varied in Europe.

1. Tenrec Collection

A note on Tenrecoid by Stefan Ormrod [free full text] appeared in the Trust's Fourth Annual Report, 1967, which outlined our intention of building up a collection of this family. With the co-operation of the Smithsonian Institute, National Zoological Park, Washington, this ambition has now been partly realised with the arrival in September of two pairs of Streaked Tenrec Hemicentetes semispinosus, two pairs Larger Hedgehog Tenrec Setifer setosus and one pair Common Tenrec Centetes ecaudatus. These, in addition to the already established breeding group of Pigmy Hedgehog Tenrec Echinops telfairi, constitutes one of the largest collections of Tenrec outside Madagascar.

The tenrec cages are glass fronted with an average floor area of 3,600 sq. cm. The floor is covered with peat, grass turfs, a hollow log and a nest box. Until the Zoo is able to build a nocturnal house, an attempt has been made to turn night-time into day in the individual tenrec cages in the small Mammal House, so that these nocturnal animals can be observed by the public. By using daylight bulbs during the night, and red-tinted lamps during the day-time, these specimens can frequently be seen foraging for food; the cage temperature is maintained at between 72-80 degs. F.

The following diet is given to all the species. A Tenrec mixture: Calf brain and minced meat, complan-vitamin supplement, condensed milk, crushed oats, crushed omnivorous nuts (protein-vitamin-mineral supplement), Carnivorous powder (high in calcium content) and hard boiled eggs. A second dish with sliced banana, and a third dish with water. Depending on availability, one of the following foodstuffs is given in the evening: mealworms, earthworms, locusts or pink mice. The Steaked Tenrec presents some peculiar problems since in the wild it feeds almost exclusively on earthworms and coleopteran larvae (Eisenberg and Gould, 1967). Earthworms are therefore given daily and the tenrec mixture has a more diluted consistency than that given to the other three species, which is more similar to a paste.

Breeding - Pigmy Hedgehog Tenrec

In the field Pigmy Hedgehog Tenrec mate at the beginning of the Austral summer in November and December, the species kept at Washington began courting in late August, about 2-3 months before this activity in Madagascar (Gould and Eisenberg, 1966). At the Jersey Zoo, the courting has so far taken place as early as April, and mating has been observed on two occasions during May, and on two occasions during June, this is some 6-7 months earlier than the genus is considered to mate in the wild state.

Table One - Comparison of Reproduction Data - Echinops telfairi

Records Nos. of Litters per month Gestation Average
Washington :
(Jan. '63-
   Nov. '65)
1/Oct. 5/Nov. 5/Dec. 2/Jan. 62-68 days 6 7-9 days
Jersey :
(Aug. '67-
    Jul. '68)
2/Jul.       2/Aug. 64 days 4 6-7 days

A considerable disparity in the size of the infants at birth appears to fluctuate almost daily during the suckling and weaning. At 22 days tenrec mixture taken for first time, at 30 days pink mice taken, at 40 days infants separated from family. Although this species of Tenrec is not considered to be so social as the Streaked Tenrec, considerable tolerance has been observed in our collection. Four adult and two sub-adult specimens shared a cage with a floor area of 4' 10" x 2' 3" and two females reared eight infants successfully, a cage population of fourteen specimens, although the nest was not shared until three days after parturition. During weaning in order to ensure that the infants were getting their nutritional requirements, they were separated from the adults for feeding purposes. Six of the eight 1968 infants have recently been sent to the Zoological Society of London.

Breeding - Larger Hedgehog Tenrec

One pair of the Larger Hedgehog Tenrec mated within the first 24 hours of being mixed together, and after a gestation period of 69 days, three infants were born on 13th November. The male appeared to be continually worrying the female in the nest box so was separated from his family. From experience gained at the National Zoological Park, Washington (Eisenberg and Muckenhirn, 1968) separation of the male from the female after mating appears to be essential for the successful breeding of this species as they appear very sensitive to any disturbance before parturition and abortion or resorption of embryos is not uncommon. In contrast to the Pigmy species the infants were approximately the same size at birth and developed with no visual disparity.

Table Two - Weight Development in Setifer

Specimen Age Weight (grams)
Male Adult 265
Female Adult 540 (7 days prior to parturition)
    315 (32 days after parturition)
Infants 21 days   52     50     49
  23 days   55     51     50
  43 days 105     93     90

2. Lemur Collection

Two pairs of the rare Mongoose Lemur Lemur mongoz, and two pairs of the attractive Ring-tailed Lemur Lemur catta, are the first occupants of the new Lemur Range, and constitute the nucleus of our breeding potentials. Until recently, the requirements of lemurs in captivty have hardly been hardly been considered, and animals that need a lot of exercise, fresh air and sunshine have been confined to small heated indoor accomodation; as a result some have become excessively fat and unable to live a normal healthy life. Almost all tropical animals experience extremes in temperature in their natural environment. From our experience, Colobus, Woolly Monkeys, and Marmosets, can be allowed outside throughout the year and improve in condition, providing that they always have access to a heated area, and their nutrition is of the required standard.

The new lemur range has been built on the site of the old bird of prey aviaries and is comprised of five separate units. The outside runs measure 20x8x10 feet high, and the dens 8x5x8 feet high. From both the inside passage and from the outside path, the public view the animals through 1/4-inch sheet glass which show the animals off to the best possible advantage, without the vision-barriers of bar and wire.

Although lemurs are gregarious in the wild state, mixing adult pairs of the same species together in captivity has proved to be as difficult as introducing mature pairs of marmosets; for fighting almost always follows, and if the pairs are not separated, can prove to be fatal. It is for this reason that the four pairs in the Zoo collection are caged separately, but benefit by being able to see one another in the outside runs, and a glass window has been built into each partition in the den, so that they stimulate one another as if they were in a social group with its subsequent troop activity. For field studies (Petter, 1965) show that Ring-tailed and Mongoose Lemurs live in complex social groups each containing several adult males and several adult females. The number of members of such a group is variable but almost always exceed a simple family group.

With the recently introduced £100 levy on the export of lemurs from Madagascar, it has become more difficult to get animals to form the nucleus of breeding groups in captivity, so it is more than ever important for Zoos to make the best possible use of those they already have and to co-operate in building up potential breeding colonies for a permanent breeding programme, with stud books of the rarer species. If the Malagasy reserves are subjected to further degradation and are unable to support their wildlife, zoos could play an important role in ensuring the survival of this unique fauna.


My thanks to Malcolm Noyes for his dedicated care and recorded observations of the Tenrec collection. To Mr. Larry R. Collins, Research Assistant and Mr. Eugene Malinick, Senior Keeper, both of the Scientific Research Department, National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C., U.S.A., for their co-operation and advice concerning the maintenance of the Tenrecs in their collection.


EISENBERG, J. F. & GOULD, E., (1967). "The Maintenance of Tenrecoid Insectivores in Captivity", International Zoo Yearbook 7: 194 London. (Free Full Text)

EISENBERG, J. & MUCKENHIRN, (1968). "The Reproduction and Rearing of Tenrecoid Insectivores in Captivity", International Zoo Yearbook 8: 107 London. (Free Full Text)

GOULD, E. & EISENBERG, J. F., (1966). "Notes on the Biology of the Tenrecidae Journal of Mammalogy" Vol. 47, U.S.A. (Free Full Text)

PETTER, J. J., (1965). "The Lemurs of Madagascar". Primate Behaviour, edited by Irven De Vere (P.309). Holt, Rinehart, Winstin, N.Y.

J. J. C. MALLINSON,              
Deputy Director.        

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