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Lost lemur lurks in Bloomington garage

A Ring-Tailed Lemur took shelter in a Bloomington garage Wednesday.
City of Bloomington
Miller Park Zoo
A Ring-Tailed Lemur took shelter in a Bloomington garage Wednesday.

A Bloomington family found a ring-tailed lemur in a garage this week, a long way from its native Madagascar.

The family found the frightened creature when it looked into suspicious noises Wednesday evening, according to city officials. Illinois Conservation police called the Miller Park Zoo to collect the critter.

Miller Park Zoo
City of Bloomington
The Miller Park Zoo and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are trying to find who owned the lemur before it escaped.

The lemur is not from the zoo. He was holed up under a shelf in the garage. The family had given him a banana, which Zoo Director Jay Pratte said was a sensible choice. The handlers had geared up with nets, leather gloves, masks, and latex gloves to minimize potential disease transmission and biting.

“We didn't know what we were going to get if this animal was scared and bouncing off the walls. While ring-tailed lemurs are very generally terrestrial, they can parkour off walls, trees, branches, like nobody's business, and can be very challenging to recover,” said Pratte.

The tried to entice him with fruit, but he was too scared. They moved furniture to get him to come out and grabbed him gently when he tried to climb a ladder.

“His reactions tell me he's familiar with people and he has been a pet. We didn't try to test how particularly friendly he is. But I think he was scared more of the situation,” said Pratte.

Madagascar is a tropical island. Central Illinois winter isn’t tropical at all. Pratte said the animal was in good shape, which suggests he had not been on his own for long or moved very far from his escape point because the temperatures are dangerous.

“They're susceptible to hypothermia, just like us. They have little hands just like we do and it's going to be their extremities, their fingers, their ears, all of that that would start to succumb first,” said Pratte.

The lemur is relaxing now in quarantine.

“He's been eating. He's picking out his favorite fruits and things that we've offered him. He's doing OK. We will have a veterinary exam probably sometime next week when our team comes to the zoo for their weekly vet rounds,” said Pratte.

Lemurs live in troops of 15-30 individuals. Pratte said if this one was trafficked, it may complicate resocializing him in a setting with others.

“What this little guy may have going against him is if he, which was likely, was prematurely separated from his mother at too young of an age and sold off or bought. He wasn't raised by his mom, he doesn't know lemur behavior, he's not likely interacted with other lemurs,” said Pratte.

Troupe behavior in any primate group is complex, lemurs as well, Pratte said.

“For example, ring-tailed lemurs are highly olfactory. They do a lot of interaction and communication based on smell. They engage in what are known as stink fights. They rub the glands that are at the base of their wrists and on their palms, all over their tail, and then they'll wave their tails in the air at one another. It's a way of communicating and whether it's threatening or communicating or talking about, how impressive they are to the opposite sex,” said Pratte.

Another specialized behavior lemurs display, said Pratte, is they groom a lot. If this one has lived isolated, he won’t have any of those social skills, stinky though they may be.

Lemurs are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act and should be managed under expert care by qualified zoological organizations, said the city.

The family named the lemur "King Julian" after the children's movie series "Madagascar."

“I greatly appreciate that the family asked for help in recovering this animal,” said Pratte. “We will work with the IDNR on the next steps of King Julian’s journey.”

A lone lemur is not a natural state in which to find one. Lemurs are a social species that live in large troupes.

Pratte said they don't make good pets. They can carry diseases that jump easily to humans and have big canine teeth that can cause injury.

Pratte said he thinks the owner likely does not have the proper permits or they would have come forward by now.

“If I lost one of my dogs, I'd be out moving heaven and earth within the next hour trying to find where they were. If this was a valued companion that somebody was keeping carefully and legally, we would hope that they would step forward to you know, to help us out and let us know some history and to you know, reclaim, you know, the animal if it is rightfully and legally theirs

He said the illegal trafficking of exotic animals is rampant and often tragic.

“You can go online and probably even regionally, find someone who will sell it to you legally or otherwise. And that's a huge part of the problem. Our efforts at educating the public and dealing with conservation issues are really being thwarted by this type of pet trade. And it's fostered by demand. As long as people think, Oh, my God, that's cute. I want one and don't look at the needs of the animal, we're going to keep seeing this and struggling with this,” said Pratte.

He encouraged people to reach out to the state department of natural resources or the zoo if they have information about such animals.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.