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Longwood Lemur Salad

February 21, 2012

Lemurs at the Philadelphia Zoo, like you, need vegetables in their diet every day to keep them healthy and happy.  In the case of the Lemur Propithecus coquereli or Coquerel’s sifaka, they enjoy a specific kind of leafy green harvested from winged sumac (Rhus copallinum).

Though the lemur is native to the far away island of Madagascar, the leaves of a Rhus copallinum, which is a Pennsylvania native, can provide the specific nutrients required by the sifaka.

Typically, the zoo can grow and collect a sufficient amount of sumac locally. Last year, due in part to the extremely wet weather conditions, there was a shortage of usable plant material available, so the zoo contacted Longwood in hopes that we would have some plants on property.  (Now where do people get the idea that we have plants kicking around here?)

Fortunately, there is a large stand of winged sumac in Longwood’s research nursery area that we were happy to share! The zookeepers were ecstatic when they saw the sizable thicket of Rhus copallina standing about 20 feet tall by 30 feet wide. The thicket would be a great vacation spot for the sifaka if they tire of city life. They could find refuge in the branches and eat until their heart’s content.

The keepers harvested branches and leaves of the plant and took the material back to the zoo for processing and freezing. The leaves will be rationed out over the winter.

Plant material fed to the zoo animals is called “browse.” The zoo actually has a browse growing area that produces food for the animals. About a decade ago, there was another shortage of Rhus copallina at the zoo, and the Zookeepers harvested browse at Longwood back then as well.

Rhus copallina is native to the eastern half of the United States, and is known as the winged sumac or shiny sumac. There are distinctive “wings” on the leaf stem, and the leaves are very glossy and turn a brilliant red in the fall.The particular plant in Longwood’s research nursery was collected in New Jersey. In addition to the stand of plant material that is located in the research nursery, the plant can also be found in Longwood’s perimeter areas.

The character Zoboomafoo from the popular children’s series of the same name is actually a Coquerel’s sifaka. In real life, the animal is ADORABLE with big eyes in a fuzzy head and long legs. They spend most of the time in trees, but when they do travel across the ground they hop on their long legs as if they are dancing. (You can see some fun videos of this on You Tube.) Sifakas are a species of lemur, which belong to a suborder of primates called prosimi. I am told that they should be referred to as a prosimian and not a “monkey” nor “ape.” Whatever we call them, they are adorable and Longwood was happy to help supply a daily salad for them!