The birth of Ranomasina at the Duke Lemur Center on April 12 was special for two reasons.
Ranomasina, whose name means "sea" in Malagasy, was delivered by way of cesarean section, which is rare.
And she's a blue-eyed black lemur – one of the 25 most-endangered primates in the world.
“This is not just any baby,” Bobby Schopler, a veterinarian at the Duke Lemur Center since 2005, said in a statement. “This is the most important birth in the 13 years I’ve worked here.”
Ranomasina's birth brings the total number of blue-eyed black lemurs in North America to 34.
Before her birth, all the blue-eyed black lemurs born in North America had descended from just seven wild-born animals imported by the Duke Lemur Center in 1985 and 1990.
Ranomasina's parents, Mangamaso and Velona, were the first lemurs imported from Madagascar to the U.S. in 24 years. They came to the Duke Lemur Center in 2017.
“She’s the most important offspring from one of the rarest lemur species,” Schopler said of Ranomasina. “She was born to a pair that took us three years to bring to Durham from Madagascar, and we may never be able to import anymore.”
Two weeks before Ranomasina was due, an ultrasound revealed that she was in a breech position inside her mother's womb.
Since the Duke Lemur Center was founded in 1966, only 15 C-sections have been performed. It's a risky procedure.
But in 2015, it was estimated that the wild population of blue-eyed black lemurs may be extinct in 11 years. Fewer than 1,000 blue-eyed black lemurs are believed to remain in Madagascar today, according to Duke Lemur Center spokeswoman Sara Clark.
In Ranomasina's case, the center determined that a C-section's risks were outweighed by the potential reward. So surgeons operated.
“There isn’t a lot of data regarding breech births in lemurs,” said center veterinarian Laura Ellsaesser. “In humans, babies in breech position are a concern because they are more likely to become stuck in the birth canal, which can become life-threatening to both the baby and the mom.”
The C-section went well.