Tonks, the baby aye-aye whose introduction to the world began with the words ‘ugly’ and ‘omen of evil,’ is ready for her public debut.
The young lemur has started to emerge from her nest box at the Denver Zoo and is ready to greet visitors.
Tonks was born Aug. 8 to the zoo’s two other aye-ayes, Bellatrix and Smeagol, and conservationists and journalists around the country heralded her birth as an important addition to the endangered species. Only 24 aye-ayes live in seven U.S. zoos, and the wild population of the elusive species in its native Madagascar is difficult to estimate, according to the Duke Lemur Center.
In Madagascar, the animals are considered bad luck and some people kill them on site, contributing to the decline in their population, the lemur center said.
“We think she’s beautiful,” Denver Zoo Jake Kubié said Thursday.
He later added to his evaluation to note that the “creepy” features like Tonks’ skeletal hands and protruding yellow eyes are exactly what allow the unique species to survive.
“It looks like when a werewolf is transitioning and just halfway through goes ‘eh’ and gives up,” he said, referencing how others in the zoo describe the aye-ayes.
Tonks spent the first four months of her life hidden in her nest box. Last week, she started peering outside and this week she started to emerge, Kubié said.
Visitors who want to see Tonks should visit the zoo just after it opens or late in the afternoon, when the aye-aye likes to play. Guests should let their eyes adjust to the dark exhibit and scan the branches high in the habitat’s upper realms.
Tonks’ mother, Bellatrix, survived a number of losses before successfully birthing Tonks, according to a brief history of the species at the Denver Zoo written by lead primate keeper Becky Sturges.
The first mate selected for her became ill and died a few weeks before their first date. And her first baby, conceived after a successful match with Smeagol from the Philadelphia Zoo, died stillborn. Two other pregnancies also were unsuccessful.
“The team mourned the loss and made adjustments for the future,” Sturges wrote.
To improve Bellatrix’s chances of successfully birthing a baby, zoo staff trained the aye-aye to present her belly for an ultrasound. The trainer used rewards like honey to teach the lemur to climb onto a specific area of mesh and to accept the ultrasound probe and gel, Sturges said Thursday.
In early August, zoo staff found a tiny heartbeat — the first ultrasound information about an aye-aye before its birth, Sturges wrote. A week later, Tonks was born.
Tonks is now about the size of a squirrel and weighs about a pound, Kubié said. Her father, Smeagol, recently was reintroduced to the family.
“At first, Smeagol was unsure about the new squirmy addition, but the three of them have fallen into a nice routine,” Sturges wrote. “They spend time together while still enjoying their alone time.
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