CONSERVATIONISTS at Dudley Zoo and Castle are playing a major role in helping to secure the future of endangered black lemurs.

Senior figures at the Castle Hill attraction have been managing the European Endangered Species Programme for black lemurs for almost two decades, first overseen by zoo director Derek Grove before curator Richard Brown took over the reins in 2015.

But Richard is now not just the co-ordinator of the entire European captive population, but he’s also overseeing the International Studbook and studying the genetic make-up of captive black lemurs as far afield as America and Japan.

He said: “It’s really exciting to have a bigger gene pool of the captive black lemur population to work with.

“I’m now overseeing 350 black lemurs in more than 75 collections worldwide, studying their genetics and making recommendations about which of these lemurs are suitable for exchanges or breeding.”

Zoo registrar Nicola Wright has also been helping with the Studbook and collates details of all births, deaths and transfers within collections as well as identifying surplus animals.

Richard added: “It’s crucial for the survival of the species that we keep the gene pool viable, so we have to get the genetics right when matching pairs together.

“We have to identify who is genetically closely related, to avoid in-breeding and prevent any defects.

“It’s a really interesting task and hopefully the new role may also open up the potential for us here at DZC working with Japanese zoos in the future.”

Lemurs can live up to 30 years in captivity and, on average, they make between one and two moves throughout their lifetime.

The zoo has a breeding pair, Florence and Bryan, and their three-year-old offspring, Jimmy.

Ten-year-old Florence moved to Dudley in 2016 from Bioparc Fuengirola in Spain, while, Bryan, aged 15, relocated to the Midlands from Luxembourg in 2009 after originally being born in France.

The pair’s first offspring, daughter Kimmy, who was born at DZC in 2017 and was the zoo’s first black lemur birth in a decade, was moved to Planckendael Zoo in Belgium in 2019 after Richard successfully matched her to a male there.