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Native Plants Feed a Rare Species

Since 2004, the Arboretum has teamed up with the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore to provide winged or shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) for the Zoo's population of Coquerel's sifaka (CAHK-ker-rells she-FAHK). A type of lemur, these amazing mammals walk bipedally on the ground and are capable of leaping up to 30 feet through the trees. Their movement on the ground resembles a dance as they hop and sidestep with arms held high. Their striking amber eyes and maroon and white bodies make them captivating animals to observe.

Native only to the forests of northwest Madagascar, Coquerel's sifaka are an endangered species. Habitat loss due to deforestation is the leading threat to sifaka, as is the case with many species of lemur. Only eight accredited zoos house about 50 of these rare creatures in the United States.

Coquerel's sifaka live in large family groups and spend much of their time consuming young leaves, buds, flowers, and bark from treetops. Their digestive systems are specially adapted to convert this plant material into energy. Rhus copallinum, with its woody stems and large leaves, provides the perfect high fiber diet for sifaka. Each summer, Zoo staff harvest enough sumac at the Arboretum to feed its sifaka population for an entire year.