OAKLAND -- Anthony lived a bachelor's life with his brother, Eugene, at the Oakland Zoo. He's a blue-eyed lemur, one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world.
But when he and Dern, a female blue-eyed lemur who recently relocated, met, the two literally couldn't keep their hands off each other. It was love at first sight.
"The minute that we introduced them together, they just fell in love," said Elizabeth Abram, lead lemur keeper. "When they saw each other, they ran to each other. They were grooming, reaching for each other through the fence."
She said that initially Anthony and Dern were supposed to stay separated for two days but instead were separated for about two minutes.
Oakland zookeepers are crossing their fingers, hoping that the two reproduce. So far, it's looking good. Though this isn't breeding season for blue-eyed lemurs, the two have already copulated, which means Dern could possibly give birth twice in the next year.
That would help the blue-eyed lemur's numbers. Though it's difficult to count how many are in the wild in Madagascar, the most recent research estimates that populations could be as low as 2,700 individuals. Only 28 live in captivity in the United States, so genetic diversity is a problem.
As part of a species survival program, biologists at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums crunch data to determine which captive blue-eyed lemurs are the most genetically appropriate to breed. Anthony and Dern were a match.
If the couple gives birth to a female, that would benefit the gene pool.
"We need more females in the population for breeding. The population is very skewed for more males," said Andrea Skatz, the curator at the Duke Lemur Center, where efforts to breed blue-eyed lemurs in captivity began in the mid-1990s.
"We have 11 males and four females. A female from the Oakland pair would be great."
Abram said a female would be fantastic and twin females would be even more so.
Next week, the Oakland Zoo hopes to bring four ringtail lemurs back into the main exhibit with Anthony and Dern. They have been separated because lemurs are territorial and matriarchal.
Abram said that their time alone was like a honeymoon.
Deeper into fall's breeding season, zoo visitors likely will see the lemurs communicating through scent marking. Blue-eyed lemurs have glands on the top of their heads and around their genital area, which they use to leave their scent throughout their habitat.
Blue-eyed lemurs are also the only other primates other than humans to have blue eyes. However, only the males are black. The females are a lighter reddish brown.
This species has a life expectancy of about 30 years. Dern is 17, and Anthony is 16. Abram said their age is telling of how rare blue-eyed lemurs are.
"We're just all walking around hoping for baby lemurs," she said.
And as for brother Eugene, he's also found love. He was transferred to a zoo in Minnesota to mate.
"They sent us a picture of them holding each other," Abram said. It looks like they're in love, too.