Thursday, August 4, 2011


Penetrating Gaze of a Lemur (Art by Hallelujah Truth)
Hallelujah for RING-TAILED LEMURS—primates with extravagantly long black-and-white tails and amber eyes set in impish triangular faces! Hallelujah for ring-tailed lemurs in Georgia! Yes, Georgia! After Madagascar, the second largest community of free-ranging ring-tailed lemurs in the world exists on St. Catherines, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, about 50 miles south of Savannah. It was my good fortune that my brilliant paleontologist husband, Chiboogamoo, had research matters on this incredible island and asked me to accompany him. As the wife of a scientist, my JOURNEY brought me to a 10 mile-long island, with its magical marshes, wetland meadows, ponds, maritime forests, and beaches. And I asked myself, “What does Hallelujah Truth, my creative persona, want to gain from this barrier island SOJOURN?”

Saw palmettos in the foreground and live oaks with Spanish moss in the background.(photos by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)

View of the ocean from the maritime forest.

Marsh surrounded by maritime forest. This pathway was established by alligator traffic.
I decided I would be CURIOUS and SEE what I could LEARN and be INSPIRED by. The next question was, “How could I enlist others in my QUEST?” I found that the island’s intelligent and well-educated naturalists were not only supportive of my endeavor to learn and capture my experience creatively, but they were also passionate! One of my pursuits involved BEING with the ring-tailed lemurs!
Visual beauty! Draping lemur tails and Spanish moss!

Lemur Buddha pose! Lemurs love to sunbathe!

Imagine these devilish looking primates peaking around trunks of pine trees and lounging on the bosoms of ancient live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Researchers who have the privilege of conducting studies on this privately owned barrier island experience delightful encounters as they happen to drive by at feeding time.

Who's conducting the research here?

Because of conditioning that a truck at a certain time equals food, lemurs, small, medium and large ones, bound toward research vehicles. The babies ride piggyback, tucked on their mothers so tightly that their hold is referred to as the “death grip.”
Baby lemur "death grip" on mama.
On the last Friday in July, I accompanied Susan Inman, the lemurs’ caretaker for the past three years, on her daily routine of feeding them. As our truck laden with buckets of food arrived at the first site, the lemurs jumped on the truck hood, then catapulted to the side mirrors, and next on top of the vehicle to the back of the truck. We sat quietly observing them. Each time the lemurs paused on the truck, they rubbed their hindquarters on it, looking through the window at us and smiling clownishly. Susan talked knowledgably about their behavior. “Lemurs are very scent-oriented,” she explained. Since scenting is one of their important methods of communicating, each one leaves an individual mark. Males are known to have “stink fights,” Susan continued to explain to me. They depress glands on their chests with their paws, rub the scent on their long beautiful tails, and then whip them around dispersing individual “stinks.” Females, apparently, use scent differently--more for attracting than repelling.

Susan Inman at work, getting food from the lemur truck.

As we sat in the truck watching the lemur antics, Susan talked about the lemurs by name and pointed out individual characteristics of some. Identification is simplified for researchers by the collars worn by the lemurs. Each lemur--except the infants, which are still rapidly growing—is adorned with a differently colored radio collar that is then associated with a carefully chosen name. Great attention and fun is given to naming these St. Catherines’ primates. This breeding season, the babies were given names from Greek mythology such as Zeus, Orion, Morpheus, Celine, Hera, and Pleiades. The previous season, newborns were named after characters from the old west, for instance, Butch (male newborn twin), Cassidy (female newborn twin), and Annie Oakley.
Lemur antics at meal time.
Once we were out of the truck and as Susan distributed the food, the lemurs actively meandered around these treats, which are placed in several different locations either on the ground, on a stand under the pines and oaks, or in their pen, which they use in winter.  A large female lemur named Jen is the first to move toward the metal bowl filled with carrots, sweet potatoes, blueberries and protein biscuits. Lemur societies are matriarchal and the females feed before their male counterparts. The babies eat alongside their mothers, feeding happily but not completely because at the end of July, the time of my visit, they are still nursing. Later during the day the lemurs will supplement this meal with muscadine, palm berries, wax myrtle, and grapevine leaves.
Yum! Fresh carrots, sweet potatoes, and blueberries.

As Susan and I moved from feeding site to feeding site, the dense green undergrowth of the saw palmettos, the draping Spanish moss swaying overhead, and the golden sunlight filtering through the tree canopy awed me. Life can bring us on brief and intensely beautiful JOURNEYS if we are present to our experience!

Over the course of an hour or more, Susan and I visited each one of the six troops that the lemurs have established in the island’s maritime forest. I learned that each troop’s name is somehow poetic in its practicality, revealing something about the troop’s location. The first established troop is named Windmill because it is located near an old windmill. Its society now consists of 21 lemurs. It is from this Windmill troop that the others have “splintered” to form new families or troops.
This deer is waiting for the lemurs' leftovers.

This past spring, the total population of lemurs on St. Catherines increased to 83 when twenty-four infants were born between the beginning of March and the end of April. The names and numbers of the other troops are Yankee Bridge (21); Engineers (9): Terry Lynn (5): East Road (8); and Picnic Bluff (9). Three younger male lemurs are without a troop now because they have splintered off and been unsuccessful in joining a new troop.

As we finished the morning feeding rounds, I asked Susan, who also works with the exotic birds and hoof stock on the island, how she would describe her experience caring for the lemurs.  “It’s unique to manage an exotic population without boundaries,” she answered modestly. “The lemurs manage themselves. I just have to be there for them.”
Susan distributing food at one of the lemur stands.
And what did, I, Hallelujah, find from this visit with Susan and the ring-tailed lemurs to feed my creativity? I love the incongruity of these impish primates’ presence amongst the pines, oaks, Spanish moss, and saw palmettos. I feel positively connected with Susan through her careful tutoring about the lemurs’ behavior and the research being done on them about their breeding and feeding habits, as well as, how they figure out complex problems.

I have lived this JOURNEY to St. Catherines fully because I was TRUE to myself and my curiosity, resulting in a new understanding so that I can write, take photos, make watercolor images, and share my knowledge with you, my SOUL BLOGGERS.

That’s COFFEE WITH HALLELUJAH! Soul blog with me and tell me how you stay true to yourself on your JOURNEY. What do you think about ring-tailed lemurs free-ranging on a Georgia barrier island?

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: To Susan Inman, I am so grateful for your patience and ability to communicate clearly what you know. Thanks to all of the knowledgeable people who work on St. Catherines and make it so easy to learn about the island’s wildlife. And, very importantly, thank you Chiboogamoo for being my life companion and taking me on JOURNEYS to the barrier islands of the Georgia coast!
Chiboogamoo with curious scent-marking lemurs.

Hallelujah Truth photographing lemurs on her first visit to St. Catherines Island in 2008 (photo by Chiboogamoo, aka Tony Martin).


  1. The ring tails are an extravagant addition to the lemurs' grey bodies and spooky faces. They look like designer racoons on speed. The contrast of their tails against the acid green jungle jeep surrounding Chickamuga makes me laugh. See you in about a month.

    1. See See! What a fun way to describe the lemurs! Racoons on speed!

  2. I feel strongly that these wild animals should not be fed. They can fend for themselves, they are wild animals. To interfere in this way, we deny them the ability to eat healthy food and to be self-sustaining. Any food that we would give them, even fresh vegetables, has been tampered with, containing anything from toxic chemicals in cultivation to GMOs from a laboratory, contaminating their natural physiology. They can and should be observed totally in the wild.