The Lemur Conservation Foundation, celebrating 20 years, begins fundraising to fuel its expansion.
Myakka City – As the sunlight slipped through the pine trees and moisture settled into the rich, black mud of the Myakka City woods, a strange chorus of howling barks could be heard in the distance.
It wasn’t some kind of mythical creature making the sound, but rather a family of critically endangered lemurs communicating with each other at the Lemur Conservation Foundation.
The Lemur Conservation is hidden outside of Myakka City, so obscure that unless a person is familiar with the driveway, the sandy path leading back into the campus would be dismissed.
What can’t be dismissed is the foundation’s work, for it is home to 51 lemurs who roam inside high-fenced forests.
The foundation owns 120 acres, but only about 20 have been developed into two separate forest blocks and a main facility, the
Mianatra Center for Lemur Studies. Here, lemur experts, researchers, conservationists and scientists convene to study the animals, which might disappear from the Earth without proper preservation efforts.
Those efforts cost money, so the foundation has planned a series of fundraisers, including a cocktail reception 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, at the Umbrella House in Sarasota. Tickets can be purchased by calling 322-8494.
If funding efforts are successful, the LCF will launch its five-year expansion program in 2016 to develop a third forest area and a clinic and a bigger quarantine facility.
“As our population grows, our needs have grown,” said Alison Grand, the acting executive director.
She said the forest areas have to be large — the two current ones are 8 and 12 acres and the new one will be 15 — to accommodate the social structure of the primate families. The lemurs stick together in family groups but “kick out” the teenagers.
The project is planned in phases, but the foundation can’t lay a brick or put up a fence for a capital project until it is fully funded. The project’s three phases will cost an estimated $1.2 million.
Funding efforts might get more exposure since the lemurs have celebrity status. Blair Brown, a Tony-Award winning actress, has been an LCF trustee since 1997.
The foundation began in 1996 as a vision of founder Penelope Bodry-Sanders. The New York resident worked for the American Museum of Natural History, and took a trip to Madagascar to scout for a possible stop in a world tour being planned by the museum. When she flew over Madagascar, the island looked pockmarked and erosion caused streams of water to flow through red dirt, signs of deforestation and human development.
“It looked like the island was crying,” she said.
When she saw her first lemur, a critically endangered mammal indigenous only to Madagascar, that was it. “My heart was taken, consumed, stolen. I wanted to do something about it,” she said.
Sanders chose Florida for the climate and Myakka City for the wooded habitat and economically priced acreage.
Since she first stepped foot on her land, she’s been cooking up new ideas for both LCF and lemurs.
While her organization celebrates its 20th year anniversary, Sanders is also looking ahead into the next 20 years.
“This 20th anniversary is very exciting for all of us, it’s like rebooting,” she said. “We’re going to move into the next 20 years and accomplish incredible things, globally. We’re championing this creature.”