For now, while the weather is warm, a pair of mongoose lemurs are happily scampering up tall pine trees dominating a small island at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Schnecksville, Lehigh County.
They are Abby, a 5-year-old female who came to the Lehigh Valley from the Sacramento Zoo, and Mico, a 6-year-old male from the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina. The little balls of fluff weigh only a couple pounds each and have exceedingly long tails. Mico has a red beard and Abby a white one.
They’ll be moving in the fall and starting a family, the zoo hopes. Zoo officials just announced plans for the construction of Habitat Madagascar, an exhibit that amounts to a honeymoon suite, for the potential breeding pair, and later a nursery.
The lemurs will share a new indoor/outdoor living space on the 29-acre zoo grounds in North Whitehall Township in an area that will mark the beginning of a proposed Africa section.
Amanda Shurr, zoo president and CEO, said groundbreaking for the new habitat will occur this summer with completion of the indoor exhibit expected in the fall and a grand opening for the finished project next spring.
Joining the lemurs in their new quarters will be some African leopard tortoises from Madagascar.
“Both species are considered critically endangered,” Shurr said, and the new exhibit will provide a year-round home for them. They’ll be outside in the warmer months and inside when temperatures drop, allowing guests to visit them in all seasons.
The indoor portion of Habitat Madagascar will provide some behind-the-scenes living space for the animals when they are off-exhibit. That space, designed with an eye toward breeding, will also include a separate suite for future lemur mothers and babies.
Zoo officials have high hopes for baby lemurs. They are usually born in April or May, and each breeding pair will have only one offspring per breeding season.
Zoo officials said human activity on Madagascar is having a negative effect on lemurs with slash-and-burn agriculture and charcoal production destroying the forest ecosystems the animals need for survival. In addition to suffering from the loss of the forests, both lemurs and tortoises are poached and often sold in illegal exotic animal markets.
“By establishing a breeding space, the zoo will be helping to contribute to the survival of the species,” Shurr said.
The habitat was designed by Spillman Farmer Architects of Bethlehem. The indoor lobby of the exhibit will include a 10-foot donor wall to display the names of supporters of the exhibit.
The lobby will display digital educational and conservation messages, providing a wealth of information about the animals. The lobby will also be available for small gatherings and events which will help generate revenue to ensure the sustainability of the exhibit.
Officials maintain community support is crucial for the zoo to continue its high level of care for its animals. Those wishing to contribute funds for the habitat may visit lvzoo.org/madagascar.