Primates back on display at Roosevelt Park Zoo

Roosevelt Park Zoo’s primates are back to their usual shenaniganry, again on display now that nighttime temperatures are back to acceptable enough levels for them to live in their outdoor enclosures.

Senior keeper Becky Zahn Walcker explained that most of the little fellows have been back since last fall, after a year and a half away at other zoos around the Midwest while Minot underwent its flood and lengthy recovery process.

“Some of them have been here since forever,” Walcker joked, adding that a few are new additions to the city’s zoo.

The zoo’s black-and-white ruffed lemur, “Maddie,” has a new partner called “Junior,” previously from Peoria Zoo in Illinois. Distinctive creatures native to Madagascar, the black-and-white is considered critically threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which keeps the by now well-known tally of global species populations with its Red List (

Also native to Madagascar are the zoo’s newest addition, five ring-tailed lemurs hailing from the Indianapolis Zoo. Female “Kellen” keeps close quarters with males “Bowie,” “Sullivan,” “Shaemus” and “Killian.” A non-threatened species, the ring-tail display has so far proven “quite a hit” with visitors, Walcker explained. Very energetic and for some irresistibly cute, the lemurs are said to have “adjusted fairly well” to their new home.

The zoo’s white-handed (or lar) gibbons “Eddie” and “Cassie” are back, and boisterous as ever. During the flood recovery the pair had been kept at the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck. The endangered species is native to much of Southeast Asia, particularly along Thailand’s Chao Phraya river system, the Maylay Peninsula and northern Sumatra. Like many endangered primates, lar gibbon populations have dwindled largely due to loss of habitat through farming and deforestation.

Siamang gibbons “Lizzy” and “Ashley” are also back, along with their distinctive cry that area residents may remember. Native to Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, the species is also considered endangered by the IUCN. During the flood recovery, Minot’s pair were kept at Dakota Zoo as well.

Over the course of this month the zoo will be concentrating its efforts on getting the majority of its animals back. “In another three weeks or so we should have the vast majority of the animals we’re going to have for the summer,” explained the zoo’s director, David Merritt. Once they have been returned and resettled, the zoo’s staff should then be freed up to completing other projects, such as the revamped Discovery Barn.

“We’ll have a flurry of activity in the next month,” he said, adding that the zoo’s new electric train trolley should be making its runs around the grounds soon. Test runs with student groups have so far been a success, and Merritt is looking forward to having it finally up and running. “The kids like it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”