New species hides while visitors seek

June 1, 2012 - 9:55am

An elusive pair of bushbabies joins fellow primates in the zoo's Fragile Forest exhibit

With big, goggly eyes and long, bushy tails, two of the Oregon Zoo's newest residents are a sight to see – if you are lucky. Hidden in the shadows of their darkened habitat, a pair of elusive and nocturnal African bushbabies named Lou and Dokhani have been maintaining a low profile this past month – so low, in fact, that even frequent zoo visitors might not know they are here.

The brother and sister joined the zoo's other primates in April and typically spend much of the day asleep. To accommodate the bushbabies' nocturnal lifestyle and need to climb and perch, keepers made sure the new habitat, located in the zoo's Fragile Forests exhibit, had many levels and access to an enclosed rooftop that allows the squirrel-sized animals to sleep outdoors.

While the habitat design allows the bushbabies to decide where and how they will sleep, it also makes spotting the not-so-dynamic duo during zoo hours even more of a challenge. The best chance for visitors to catch a glimpse of them is during two public feedings, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, when the pair sometimes emerges from dangling hammocks to enjoy a snack.

According to Jennifer Davis, curator of Africa and primates at the Oregon Zoo, Lou and Dokhani have gradually become more social with their keepers, who are excited for the opportunity to work closely with the animals and learn their habits.

"Bushbabies are fascinating to learn about because they are so different from most primates," Davis said. "They're also pretty cute. Think Yoda, or Dobby the house-elf from 'Harry Potter' – except smaller and covered in fur."

Davis said Lou and Dokhani came to the Oregon Zoo from a private owner who realized that wild animals, and primates in particular, do not make good pets. The siblings are the first of their species to reside at the zoo, as well as the zoo's only current prosimians, a category of primates that does not include monkeys or apes.

Bushbabies – also called galagos or nagapies – are most closely related to lemurs and tarsiers, and have characteristics considered more primitive than monkeys or apes. Among their distinctive features are large, round eyes for strong night vision and big, batlike ears. They also have long and slender fingers with tips that widen and flatten. Bushbabies are considered a genetically valuable species for zoo preservation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which the Oregon Zoo is a member.