Saying Goodbye to Ara

Late last week, we said goodbye to Ara, our 33-year-old red ruffed lemur. Based on the information available to us, at the time of her death, she was believed to be the oldest female red ruffed lemur in captivity. During this sad time, we’d like to take a moment to tell you about the tireless efforts of our animal care team as they worked diligently to ensure Ara had the best possible quality of life, through to the end.

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Although Ara had been considered geriatric for the last 13 years of her life, her lead keeper, Lauren, tells us it wasn’t until the last seven months or so that she started to see a dramatic decline in the lemur’s health. In October, Ara began showing signs of neurological distress. She had what Lauren describes as “seizure-like episodes.” Due to the fall risk associated with these episodes, our team decided to retire her from the exhibit and moved her into her blockhouse with access to the side yard, where the heights are less extreme.

Ara began receiving an anti-seizure medication three times each day. She continued this medication for several months until she began to refuse it, at which time our team weaned her off the medication and watched her closely for any additional signs of neurological episodes. None were observed until Ara’s last week of life. In addition to this anti-seizure medication, Ara also received painkillers to keep her arthritic body comfortable.

Despite these medical challenges, Lauren says, “She always kept a perky, interested attitude – even as her body started to decline.”

In addition to arthritis and neurological symptoms, like all elderly animals, Ara began to lose weight as she became more fragile. Ara was weighed every other week so Lauren and our vet team could track exactly how much weight she was losing. In addition to her regular diet (where her veggies were steamed to make them easier to eat and the fruit was cut small enough so that her elderly teeth didn’t need to work so hard at chewing), our team blended up her favorite fruits into smoothies on a daily basis.

To help her gain (or at least maintain) her weight, our team also offered her every type of food imaginable, including pancakes, muffins, popsicles, whipped cream, gummy bears, power bars, and baby food. Lauren tells us Ara was initially interested in these new offerings, but stiffly refused them by the next day. Ara’s taste buds changed on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis, so food items had to be kept novel and exciting.

Lauren says, “I always joked that she liked her food by the colors: one week, she liked all things blue/black (blackberries, blueberries), and the next, it was everything orange (orange, cantaloupe, peaches). She kept us on our toes, and I frequently requested odd, unusual foods from our commissary to keep her happy.”

Lauren tells us Ara’s care took up the majority of her time during the day. “If I wasn’t preparing her food, I was hand feeding it to her or trying to convince her that her medications were necessary and would make her feel better. She always ate best if she was hand fed – me, a servant for the queen. As animals age, they require more time. I’ve always had a soft spot for the oldies, so it wasn’t a burden to me – more of an honor to be able to take care of such a sassy, friendly, old lady who had great demands.”

Throughout all of this special treatment, it’s important to note that our vet staff, keepers and curators evaluated Ara on a regular basis to ensure everything they did was in the lemur’s best interest. Late last week, after seeing Ara’s health continue to deteriorate, our dedicated team of animal professionals decided it was time to humanely euthanize Ara.

Lauren says, “In the end, her body definitely gave out before her spirit, which always makes a quality of life decision harder. We’re with these animals more than our pets at home sometimes. Blood, sweat and tears go into their care on a routine basis to make sure our animals always have the very best. The hardest decision will always be when to let them go, and it is not taken lightly. In the end, I am so grateful I was able to be there with her, to comfort her when the decision was made to humanely euthanize her.”

“Ara was legendary,” Lauren says. “Everyone will tell you she was full of spunk and personality. When she was on exhibit with the ring tailed lemurs, she could often be seen chasing them and keeping them in line. I hope people were awed by her beauty. Red ruffs are a very rare species of lemur, one of the most endangered in the wild. In captivity, the average life span is 25, but she made it all the way to 33 – that in itself is inspiring to me. Hopefully, she inspired people to care about lemurs and look into how they can help them escape extinction.“

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Ara leaves behind her fellow senior lemurs, Jethys, a 26-year-old female red ruffed lemur, and Che, our elderly male mongoose lemur. Lauren says Jethys is going through a mourning period and will be monitored closely. She tells us, “Ara might be gone, but I still have more elderly lemurs to spoil rotten.”

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It’s African Penguin Awareness Day!

Today, October 8, 2016, is African Penguin Awareness Day! The Greensboro Science Center is home to a colony of 20 African penguins. These birds are playful, inquisitive, and a general joy to watch. They are among the most popular animals that call the GSC home!

But, sadly, these beautiful and engaging animals are endangered in the wild. According to some estimates, they could be extinct in the wild in as few as 15 years. But, don’t despair! There are ways you can help – right from home!

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One of the leading causes of African penguins’ population decline is overfishing. You can help alleviate this problem by simply making sustainable seafood choices. The Greensboro Science Center is a Seafood Watch partner. As a partner, we are committed to spreading the word about making smart decisions when it comes to seafood. Be sure to pick up a Seafood Watch guide at the GSC during your next visit to help you make better seafood choices!

Another way you can help is by running or walking. You read that right! On May 20, 2017, we’ll be hosting our 4th annual Tuxedo Trot: Run for the Penguins. This 5K and Kids’ Fun Run is a fundraiser for SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds). All proceeds from the event are donated to this amazing organization dedicated to helping save this charismatic species. Registration for the Tuxedo Trot is currently available online at tuxedotrot.com.

Can’t wait until May? Well, we’ve got a way you can help right now! Our friends at The Cannonball (marathon, half marathon, and 5K) are giving you a discount AND giving a donation to the Tuxedo Trot with anyone who registers using code LOVEGSO through October 10!

Another easy way to help is to spread the word about the Tuxedo Trot to your friends, family, coworkers, workout buddies, running groups, and even random strangers on the street (although you may get funny looks). Like and share our Tuxedo Trot Facebook page and talk about the event using #tuxedotrot. Anything you can do to spread the word about this event will help us raise funds for African penguin conservation. Thanks for your help!

Introducing Kuechly

We, here at the Greensboro Science Center, are getting excited for Super Bowl XLIX this weekend! Perhaps no one is more excited than our most adorable football fan, little Kuechly.

Kuechly On Her Panthers Blanket

Kuechly On Her Panthers Blanket

Even though our beloved Carolina Panthers won’t be playing on Sunday, Panther Pride is certainly still alive and well at the GSC… In fact, we support our home team so much that we’ve named a penguin after one of our favorite team’s players… Meet Kuechly (pictured below with her sibling at about 10 days old), who was born on December 8, 2014 to penguin parents Pilchard and Possession.

Kuechly and Her Clutch-Mate

Kuechly and Her Clutch-Mate

You might be wondering why we named this little girl after Kuechly instead of another Panther. Well… let’s just say our lead penguin keeper MAY have just a SLIGHT crush on the real Luke Kuechly. Her birds, her rules, right? (Don’t worry, fiancé Drew… she assures us her heart is still yours.)

Carmen and Kuechly: Panther Fans

Carmen and Kuechly: Panther Fans

Luke Kuechly, if you’re reading this… We’d like to invite you to come meet little Kuechly! Just let us know when your schedule allows and we’ll set up a penguin meet and greet with your namesake. We’d also love for you to join us for our second annual Tuxedo Trot on April 25, 2015 (World Penguin Day). It’s a 5K and fun run we’ve created to raise money for SANCCOB, a non-profit organization devoted to saving endangered wild African penguins. Check it out here: http://www.tuxedotrot.com/

Please note: Kuechly is not on exhibit just yet. She’s still growing in her waterproof feathers and will join the rest of her colony when she sharpens her swimming skills!