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Aye-aye, primate ... stateside at last.

Aye-aye, primate . . . stateside at last

Considered bad luck and fair game in its native Madagascar, the cat-sized primate called aye-aye not only suffers from a bad image, but also is in danger of becoming extinct. To save the unusual-looking animal, scientists are hoping that a captive breeding program will produce offspring safe from hunters and disappearing forests. Announcing plans for the first aye-aye colony to be established in the United States, researchers said recently that two of the animals (one of which is shown above) have arrived safely at the Duke University Primate Center in Durham, N.C. Despite a few glitches -- like the fact that both animals are male, and that almost nothing is known about aye-aye breeding habits -- primate experts at the center say they are optimistic.

In Madagascar, legend says that you will die if an aye-aye points its bony third finger in your direction. Those thin fingers are used to spear grubs, which the aye-aye's large ears can hear gnawing under bark that is ripped away by the animal's sharp teeth.

Specimen collectors had permits to capture four of the animals in January, but an illegal aye-aye hunt by area residents shortly before they arrived left only two males alive, Elwyn Simons, director of the primate center, told SCIENCE NEWS. Simon says a female-seeking expedition is scheduled this spring. The two males at Duke, along with two females and one young male at the French National Zoo in Vincennes, are the only aye-ayes in captivity -- and the only ones allowed to leave Madagascar since 1930. Simons says the two countries have discussed conjugal visits.

Officially called Daubentonia madagascariensis, the nocturnal aye-aye is the only living representative of its taxonomic family. With perhaps "a few hundred" aye-ayes left in the wild, says Simons, this type of lemur may not be the rarest primate -- but local attitudes make it "probably the world's most endangered primate species."

"The aye-aye is attracted to villages to eat sugar cane and coconuts, so it's like the skunk in the henhouse and killed as vermin," says Simons.
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Title Annotation:captive breeding program for Madagascar primate
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 19, 1988
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