Monkey with a lion's mane: A rare macaque cub born at the Moscow Zoo

August 17
Parks and pedestrian areas

Lion-tailed macaques have had offspring at the Moscow Zoo. There are not more than 4,000 lion-tailed macaques in the wild, and as one of the rarest primates, they are listed in the International Red List of Threatened Species. These monkeys have a small tuft on the tip of their tail, resembling a lion's, which is where their name comes from. Their lush silvery manes make them look even more like the “king of the animals.”

“This is the female macaque Koletta’s first cub, and the zoologists were worried about whether she would be able to take proper care of her baby. However, Koletta has done a great job without human help. The birth of the lion-tailed macaque, also known as wanderoo, is a major event, not only for us, but for the entire international zoo community, which is working to create a reserve population of this rare primate species in captivity,” said Svetlana Akulova, General Director of the Moscow Zoo.

So far, the baby has never left its mother’s side. It snuggles up close to her and hides in her thick black wool. Until it is six months old, the newborn macaque will feed mainly on breast milk, before transitioning to the adult menu. Like other primates, lion-tailed macaques have a complex diet of 80 foods. Among other things, they eat a variety of tropical fruits – papayas, figs, lychees, fennel and Jerusalem artichoke plants and vitamin supplements. Their favourite treats include bananas, tomatoes, and lettuce. The animals also love to hunt crickets, which zoologists bring into the aviary.

The young wanderoo is only vaguely reminiscent of its older relatives. Its body is still covered with silky hair, but after a couple of months, the fur will become coarser. Macaques reach the size of a mature animal in about two years, and acquire their characteristic mane at about the same age.

Visitors can watch the cub growing up and interacting with other macaques at the Monkey House pavilion on the new territory. The family occupies a spacious enclosure next to the Diana monkeys and the weeper capuchins. In addition to the newborn, there are three family members: the pack leader Kai, the older female Georgette and her younger sister Koletta.

In the wild, lion-tailed macaques are found in Southwest India – in the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu – at an altitude of more than 2,000 metres above sea level. They live in evergreen forests and mountainous areas. In order to avoid predators, they spend most of their time in the trees, almost never coming down to the ground.

Most of a wanderoo’s body is covered with black fur; only the tufts on their tails and the manes on their heads are silvery grey. An adult wanderoo can be up to 55 centimetres tall, with a 35-centimetre-long tail. Females weigh about 3 to 6 kilos, and males, from 5 to 10 kilos. In the wild, their life span is about 15–20 years, and in captivity, up to 35 years.

The natural population of macaques is declining every year because of deforestation and poaching. To prevent the complete extinction of the species, Europe adopted a programme for the conservation of lion-tailed macaques in captivity; the Moscow Zoo has been actively involved in the initiative for 20 years.

Under the programme, primatologists pair male and female animals and create the right conditions for their reproduction. The resulting offspring are sent to the world’s leading zoos, and once they have reached sexual maturity, the new animals participate in creating a stable and genetically diverse population of lion-tailed macaques in captivity. When the cub born at the Moscow Zoo matures, it will also go to another zoo.

This year, rare Dalmatian pelicans and bush dogs were also born at the Moscow Zoo, as well as maned wolf puppies, one of the rarest members of the canine family. In March, the Humboldt penguin family had offspring. Now the Moscow Zoo is home to the most numerous group of these birds in Russia, consisting of nine breeding pairs and more than a dozen birds of different ages – from young chicks to adult penguins. There are 35 penguins in the family, including the new hatchlings.

Other young animals born at the Moscow Zoo this spring include a rare ring-tailed lemur and a black stork. A huge cloud rat pup was born in June, and in July, a small hornbill. Newborn pink and red flamingos can now be seen on the Big Pond, and white-tailed sea eagle chicks in the Birds of Prey Cliff enclosure.


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