Ravina is a female, 13-year-old red ruffed lemur. The lemurs at Lemur Conservation Foundation can move from their enclosures to the free-range forest habitat at will using overhead tunnels.
If two is company and three is a crowd, what is 40?
At the Lemur Conservation Foundation in Myakka City, it’s a full house, which is why the foundation is scheduled to construct a 2,800-square-foot expansion or “lemur barn” to house some of its 40 lemurs.
The estimated cost for constructing the building was originally $290,000 to $340,000, though that could change slightly because of changing costs for supplies and labor caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lemur barn will be one of the final steps of a five-year expansion project that was launched in 2016. The foundation met its $2.2 million fundraising goal and has since constructed the seven-acre Elizabeth Moore Lemur Forest and a maintenance workshop. In addition to the lemur barn, an existing building will soon be repurposed for a clinic and quarantine area.
The foundation has been home to as many as 60 lemurs in the past, but has shipped off several in the past year to zoos for the purpose of breeding the endangered lemurs with their best genetic match. The number of lemurs at the foundation fluctuates based on birthing season and deaths because of old age.
Kenney said the foundation wants to build the expansion because the current facility used for housing lemurs is near maximum capacity. Although the foundation has sheltered more than 40 lemurs at a time in the past, they did so because they had fewer but larger breeding groups. Their current groups are smaller because some lemurs leave and create their own groups once they are mature.
A new facility would give the foundation more space to house those separate groups and grow some of them to a size more often found in nature, which in turn will make the foundation’s behavioral research more relevant.
“It's not a bad problem to have by any means, but it is a problem,” Kenney said.
The foundation worked with CLR Design, a Philadelphia company, to draw up plans for the expansion.
The new building will be U-shaped. It will contain lemur enclosures on the outside edge of the U with overhead tunnels that will allow them unfettered access to two free-range forest habitats — one that is about seven acres and one that is about four acres — just outside. A third forest habitat is currently out of use while work is done to improve its flood mitigation and fencing. A hallway for the keepers will be on the inside edge of the U.
In the current enclosure, which is a long rectangle with rooms on both sides of the hallway, lemurs in different rooms can see each other from across the hallway. This leads to problems when lemurs of the same species, but in different breeding groups, get caught up in talking to each other and posturing rather than spending time outside. According to Kenney, this is an abnormal behavior that the U-shaped enclosure will eliminate.
The project is currently in the permitting stage, although executive director Deborah Millman said it is close to clearing that hurdle. The foundation hopes to start construction by January and thinks it would take about one year to complete.
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.
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.