Jovian, a Coquerel’s sifaka lemur who starred as “Zoboomafoo” in the PBS children’s television show by the same name, died Monday at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham. He was 20.
Jovian was the center’s most famous resident, known to children around the world as the leaping, bounding dark brown-and-white primate who appeared in 65 episodies of “Zoboomafoo” from 1999 to 2001.
Brothers Martin and Chris Kratt created the show to teach young children about wildlife, and they chose as their co-host a talking lemur puppet known as Zoboo. The Kratts also wanted to use footage of a real lemur and came to the Duke Lemur Center, where Martin Kratt, who graduated with a degree in zoology from Duke in 1989, had volunteered as a student.
The Kratts auditioned several groups of Coquerel’s sifaka lemurs in 1997 before settling on Jovian and his parents, Nigel and Flavia. Later that year, the brothers spent nearly two weeks filming the family exploring a stage set built at the center that became known on the show as Animal Junction.
“You can probably see all three of them on the show, but Jovian was the star,” Martin Kratt said, according to the lemur center’s blog. “He was young and good-looking and very gentle.”
Jovian was born at the Duke Lemur Center in 1994 and was still very athletic when the Kratts gave him his big break, said Chris Young, education specialist at the center. Jovian’s signature moves included bounding through the forest and jumping through the rafters of Animal Junction.
“He was the right sort of energetic and animated and sometimes cartoonish animal you would want for a children’s television show,” Smith said.
Jovian became a celebrity, drawing crowds of enthusiastic young fans and their parents and appearing on T-shirts and other sourvenirs.
“Zoboomafoo” is not as easy to find on TV anymore, though it lives on in syndication. But in every group that visits the center are people who know him, Smith said.
“Every time we would bring up Zoboomafoo, a smile would go up from those who remembered,” he said.
‘Happy, healthy life’
Jovian’s health began to decline earlier this year, particularly last month when keepers noticed he wasn’t as playful as normal. He died of kidney failure on Monday.
In the wild, a Coquerel’s sifaka lemur would live to be about 15, Smith said.
“So for Jovian to live to be 20 means that he lived a long, happy, healthy life,” he said.
Jovian fathered 12 children over the years, seven of which survive him. He also has four grandchildren, with two more on the way.