World Lemur Day: 7 places to celebrate in Central Florida

Kathleen Christiansen, Orlando Sentinel

Lemurs are an endangered species, so it’s only fitting that these primates have a celebration in their honor on Oct. 30: World Lemur Day.

“Unfortunately, they only live in Madagascar … so they don’t have the resources to help save them,” said Leslie Rush, owner of Exotic Animal Experience, which is home to eight lemurs.

Elena Lamar, the Central Florida Zoo’s director of animal operations, said while Madagascar is the only habitat in the wild where lemurs reside, it’s “a really diverse hotspot.”

“What’s really astounding is on that island, there are about 112 species of lemurs,” she said. “They’re an extraordinary animal found in one small niche of this huge planet, and that’s why we work so hard in conservation and education to help preserve areas like that to support these remarkable animals.”

One of the best ways to celebrate World Lemur Day is to learn more about these animals.

According to Lamar, lemurs are believed to be the oldest primate species. They utilize facial expressions, vocalizations and scent to communicate.

“Scent marking is really important for the ring-tailed lemurs,” said Lamar, who mentioned these animals have scent glands on their wrists and chests. Males even have a spur on their wrist so they can pierce trees to mark their scent.

Their tails are also important, serving as a mechanism to waft their scent to assert dominance during “stink fights” and as a flag to guide members of their conspiracy (that’s what a group of these mammals is called).

“It’s a great way to keep each other together in their group,” Lamar said. “The tail is kind of like how you see the tour groups with a leader with a flag.”

And keeping together is important, as lemurs generally have very tight-knit family groups, according to Rush.

“They’re very social. They absolutely love to play,” Rush said. “They always seem to be happy, always in a good mood. They’re very comical.”

Though her lemurs are no longer babies, they still act like children, jumping on their parents or grandparents to form a “big ole bundle of lemurs.”

Several Central Florida establishments offer great ways to learn even more while viewing or interacting with lemurs. Here are a few.

Brevard Zoo

The Melbourne zoo is home to red ruffed and ring-tailed lemurs. See them from afar while perusing the zoo by foot, but for the best glimpses, embark on the kayak tour. The experience takes visitors ages 5 and older by Lemur Island and offers ground views of these primates. Tours start at 10:30 a.m. and run every 45 minutes.

Amid the pandemic, the zoo requires the advance purchase of time- and date-specific tickets that cost $24.95 for adults, $22.95 for ages 65 and older, $14.95 for ages 3-11 and free for ages 2 and younger. Reserve the kayak tour upon arrival at the zoo for $9.95 per person.

If you go: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; 8225 N. Wickham Road in Melbourne; 321-254-9453; brevardzoo.org

Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge

Meet Honeybear, Whimsa and Thumbelina, three ring-tailed lemur siblings whose mother was a victim of the wildlife pet trade, at Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge & Education Center. Since the refuge is only open select days of the week, you’ll have to celebrate the holiday a little late. Admission is a $5 suggested donation per person.

If you go: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; 10525 Clapp Simms Duda Road in Orlando; 407-568-5138; btnwildlife.org

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

Two male ring-tailed lemurs as well as one male and one female red ruffed lemur can be found at the Central Florida Zoo.

“The lemurs generally are active throughout the day,” Lamar said. “Ring-tailed lemurs are famous for sunbathing in the early morning … Some people say it looks like they’re doing yoga, but what they’re doing is warming up before they go out and forage for the day.”

Amid the pandemic, the zoo requires the advance purchase of time- and date-specific tickets that cost $19.50 for adults, $15.95 for ages 55 and older, $13.75 for ages 3-12 and free for ages 2 and younger.

If you go: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; 3755 W. Seminole Blvd. in Sanford; 407- 323-4450; centralfloridazoo.org

Exotic Animal Experience in Orlando

Guests who schedule a visit can interact with ring-tailed, red-fronted brown, black-and-white ruffed, red ruffed and tri-colored ruffed lemurs on their big playground.

“The lemurs actually wait by the gate when they know people are here,” Rush said. “It’s so cute. They hang on the gate waiting for them to come in.”

Exotic Animal Experience offers a wide range of packages, from group visits to the ultimate experience, that range from $150-$750. Rush said group visits are limited at this time amid the coronavirus pandemic and encourages guests to consider the private or ultimate experiences. Currently, they offer experiences on Thursdays and Saturdays by appointment only.

“We’re kind of trying to stick more with the ultimate visits and private visits just to keep everybody safe,” she said.

If you go: 407-383-6766; exoticanimalexperience.net

Giraffe Ranch

In addition to a variety of safari tours, this ranch offers a ring-tailed lemur feeding for $35 per guest.

If you go: 38650 Mickler Road in Dade City; 813-482-3400; girafferanch.com/visit

Safari Wilderness

The Lakeland attraction that offers safaris by a variety of transportation methods, including ATVs and kayaks, also has a lemur feeding experience available for $35 per person.

If you go: 10850 Moore Road in Lakeland; 813-382-2120; safariwilderness.com

Wild Florida

While the park is mainly known for its alligators and airboats, it’s also home to ring-tailed lemurs. For an up-close experience, guests ages 12 and older can interact with these animals inside their enclosure during the lemur encounter. Reservations are required for this limited-capacity offering that costs $43 per person.

If you go: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 3301 Lake Cypress Road in Kenansville; 407-957-3135; wildfloridairboats.com

Want to reach out? Email me at kchristiansen@orlandosentinel.com. Find more fun things on Instagram @fun.things.orlando and Facebook @fun.things.orlando.

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