A team of University of Wolverhampton academics is working to improve the welfare and captive reproduction of primates across Europe – and the first phase of the project is now complete.
Dr Sara Fontani, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Post-doctoral Research Fellow from the University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering - Animal Behaviour & Wildlife Conservation group, has successfully completed the first phase of her project, The Enriched Primate, at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust – Jersey Zoo.
Under the supervision of Dr Stefano Vaglio, a University Reader in Animal Behaviour, she conducted the first detailed chemical analyses of vaginal secretions in gentle lemurs (Hapalemur alaotrensis).
She compared vaginal odour signals in breeding and non-breeding periods to identify chemical signature that convey information about female sexual receptivity and fertility. Stefano and Sara aim to use chemical communication to trigger olfactory and mating behaviours to enhance breeding success in captive conditions in such a critically endangered species of lemur.
Sara said: “Gentle lemurs are one of the 25 most endangered primate species in the world, and they currently suffer from low reproductive rates in captivity.
“We are very excited, as we will be able to start the second phase of the project shortly. We are going to test an innovative scent enrichment based on the fertility signal of the female, which we hope will have a positive impact on the lemurs’ well-being and reproductive success in captivity.”
This project has been co-designed with Gale Glendewar (Jersey Zoo), the coordinator of the gentle lemur ex-situ programme (EEP), a population management programme for animals of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) that aims to maintain captive healthy populations and maximise genetic diversity.
Lemurs are native to Madagascar where there are around 100 species, all endangered. 87 per cent of forest there is gone now due to traditional ways of agriculture which are not sustainable.
Stefano said: “If zoo-housed primate populations are doing well, we can use them as ambassadors of their conspecifics in the wild to inform and educate human communities and have a positive influence on biodiversity conservation.”