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What is an Aye-Aye?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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An aye-aye is a very unusual-looking lemur native to Madagascar. Some aye-ayes are kept in a few zoos around the world, but they are very rare. The aye-aye is often considered grotesque as it has a very pointed face with veined skin, gigantic yellow-green staring bulbous eyes, huge bat-like ears, odd-looking disproportionate legs and toes and a coarse, scruffy coat.

Traditionally, the Malagasy believe that the aye-aye is a harbinger of death. They have killed off most of the species and the aye-aye is often considered an endangered species. It doesn't help matters that ayes-ayes are known to steal eggs and other foods quite brazenly from the villagers, much like raccoons are known to do in other parts of the world. The aye-aye's natural habitats are shrinking as the rainforests decline.

The aye-aye lives in trees in the rainforest and in other areas on Madagascar's eastern coast. As they dwell in the canopies of trees, they often find and eat fruit there, but aye-ayes are omnivores meaning that they eat just about any type of food. Their long toes, with the middle one being the longest, allow them to dig out insects from inside branches. Aye-ayes also have rodent-like teeth for ripping off tree bark to find grubs for food.

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The aye-aye is nocturnal and sleeps in its tree nest during the day. Although the aye-aye has rodent-like teeth and a squirrel-like tail, it is a primate. The aye-aye is a member of the lemur family and lemurs, like humans, monkeys and apes, are primates. Yet the aye-aye is different from other lemurs because of its unusual feet and other characteristics and is considered a rare type of lemur.

Only a handful of zoos and zoological centers around the world have aye-ayes. Madagascar's Tsimbazaza Zoo has them as does the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo. As aye-ayes are so rare, zoos began an international cooperation program that focuses on the breeding of aye-ayes. The United Kingdom (UK) has had aye-ayes in three zoos: The Jersey Zoo, The London Zoo and the Bristol Zoo. In the United States, Duke University's Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina has aye-ayes. The public can usually see the aye-ayes there, but it is strictly by appointment only.

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