A Story of a White Ring-tailed Lemur "Sapphire" by Adrian Warren.....Page 3 of 4
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A Story of a White Ring-tailed Lemur:

Written and Photographed by ADRIAN WARREN
Pubished in BBC WILDLIFE Magazine; February 1997 Page 22- 25

Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta)
Image gallery of Lemurs

Then the troop, led by the senior females, would head down to the cooler glades of the forest to feed. As they moved and fed, they would reinforce their territorial claim by scent-marking. Females would back up on a sapling to leave a genital smear, whereas the males would also use their special wrist glands, armed with a horny pad, to score the surface of the sapling's bark and so leave a more permanent signature.

Eventually, the troop would arrive at one of several siesta trees dotted across their territory. Here they would sleep for two hours, or longer if the day was particularly hot. The afternoon would be a re-run of the morning, with the troop moving in a wide circle -over most of their range -before returning to a sleeping tree not far from the ancient tamarind where the day began. With an abundance of leaves, fruit and flowers on which to feed, a troop's territory can be quite small.

The troop followed its regular routine until November, when the rains began -an event that brought relief to forest animals and farmers, alike. The first storm was an impressive one. The clouds had built up for days, and finally, to the accompaniment of lightning and rolls of thunder, the first drops of rain fell, developing into a downpour that flooded huge areas of the forest.

Most of the ring-tail infants were big enough to cope with the numbing cold of the rainy season, but we were anxious about the twins, because they'd been born late and were still tiny. Miraculously, they made it, as did Sapphire. As the weeks passed, all three continued to grow into strong little lemurs. The rains brought fresh, luxuriant growth and a plentiful supply of food for the troop. The youngsters, no longer solely dependent on milk, watched carefully as their mothers chose certain plants and ignored others, then did the same.

Ring-tailed Lemurs (Lemur catta) mother and baby

April came, and the rainy season began to ebb. For the ring-tails it was time to prepare for mating -a brief, frenzied annual event that throws the relative calm of the troop into chaos. We watched as the troop members followed a familiar route through their territory towards a feeding tree. They walked more or less in a line, sauntering, unhurried -the dominant females and youngsters in front, the subordinate male bringing up the rear. Suddenly, one of the young females marked a thin sapling. A confident young male, not far behind, went to the sapling to sniff her scent, then enthusiastically added own, using his wrist glands. Sexual chemistry was definitely in the air.
Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta), female scent marking
Scenting marking : female
Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta), male scent marking
Scenting marking : male

During the days that followed, the male stay close to this particular female. She didn't discourage him. Together, they would wander so distance away from the rest of the troop to a quiet spot where they would cuddle and groom one another, forming a 'consort bond'. Corn bonds are sometimes short-lived, but they can be highly significant. With luck, the bond will last long enough for the partners to mate- though there's always a risk that it will disappear in the chaos of the mating frenzy.

>Frenzy is an apt word. With hormones in full flow, dominance ranks are forgotten as males challenge each other night and day. As an aggressor approaches his opponent, he rubs the soft fur of his tail with his wrist glands, anointing it with his scent. Then, continuing his approach, he waves his tail in the air over his back to waft his scent in the direction of the other male.

These 'stink fights' are often bloodless, but sometimes the contenders resort to using their razor-sharp teeth and claws. They slash each other on head, flank or thigh like knife-fighters. And yet the most dominant males are not necessarily the most successful at mating: low-ranking males sometimes fight the leaders to a standstill, and win the chance to mount females. Chaos reigns in this free-for-all, which results in some defeated males leaving the troop to try their luck elsewhere the following year. Calm only returns to the troop once the females are no longer in oestrus.

Some consort bonds remain intact outside the breeding season. A female may frequently be seen in the company of a certain male, who shows great affection towards her and tries to groom and cuddle her infant. He may or may not be her infant's father.

When it comes to choosing a partner for one of these longer-term relationships, a female ring- tail may prefer a mellow, non-aggressive male. The upshot is that some of these self-assured, older males spend virtually all the year in the close company of females, being pampered and groomed.

Ring-tail society is highly sophisticated, and it's difficult at times not to notice echoes of their behaviour patterns in our own. In fact, the hardest part of filming was recording mothers' reactions to the death of their infants. We were braced for it, but as we followed 'our' youngsters, we kept hoping that this year they would somehow all survive. It could not happen, of course. Death came to some, including Sapphire, as it does each year. But in the end, those who lived became strong and independent, cavorting around their mothers as the annual cycle began again. As we left, there were now 30 lemurs in the troop awaiting next year's new babies: the younger brothers and sisters of Sapphire, the twins and their playmates. .

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