In Madagascar, ring-tailed lemurs, Lemur catta, are losing their fur--a condition called "bald lemur syndrome." This situation is more than a cosmetic problem for the lemurs' distinctive bushy tails. Scientists worry that infant lemurs may literally be losing their grip on their mothers during the babies' early days, which are spent clinging to parents' fur. Scientists are investigating these and other toxic effects of a local plant, Leucaena leucocephala, in the ring-tailed lemur.
A 2007 report and management recommendations from the Berenty Research Project include the clinical contributions of Autumn Davidson, DVM, MS, DACVIM, and Tomas Baker, MS, both of the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. In 2006 Davidson and Baker traveled to the Berenty Private Reserve in Madagascar with endoscopes and ultrasound equipment to help.
The researchers studied 30 ring-tailed lemurs known to be exposed to a toxic plant, Leucaena leucocephala, and compared different degrees of alopecia (hair loss) with the conditions of 20 control animals not exposed to leucaena. Wildlife specialists also performed complete physical examinations on the animals, noting weight, body condition and fur condition. Clinicians took samples of blood, fur, skin, feces and ectoparasites for testing. The team performed abdominal examinations on 40 individuals to measure their internal organs, anatomy, and pathology. Tomas Baker performed the ultrasound examinations and liver biopsies, which were taken to evaluate pathology and histopathology and compare levels of mimosine, the toxic agent of leucaena.
This project was funded in part by the National Geographic Society Research and Exploration Committee, Fort Dodge Animal Health Company and Victor Medical Supplies.
The report states that the project organizers will continue the eradication of leucaena in the reserve to prevent the lemurs from ingesting toxic plant material.
CRAWFORD, G. Animal Care Center of Sonoma, Rohnert Park, CA 94928, USA; Wildlife Health Watch, Sonoma, CA 95476, USA.
OSTAPAK, S. Veterinary Dept, San Francisco Zoo, San Francisco CA 94132, USA.
BAKER, T. University of California, School of Veterinary Medicine, Davis, CA, USA.
DAVIDSON, A. Univ. of California School of Veterinary Medicine, Davis, CA, USA.