Ring-Tailed Lemurs are so cute they’re the stars of animated movies!   They’re popular pets (though this is illegal).   They are adaptable to many different climates, so they live in zoos everywhere, including at the Reid Park Zoo.  In fact, they seem to be everywhere except where they ought to be. 

Where are they, then?

These amazing and appealing primates are conspicuously missing from the forest canopy of southwestern Madagascar.  Why?  Because the combination of climate change, illegal poaching,  habitat fragmentation, and the illegal pet trade have reduced the Ring-tailed Lemurs’ numbers in the wild by an alarming 95% just since the year 2,000.   They’re now on the list of the 25 most endangered primates on the planet.

What is it about the Ring-Tailed Lemur that makes it so vulnerable?   First of all, they live in a relatively small, isolated area of an isolated island, and so have evolved in a unique way.   Unfortunately for them, this uniqueness is very appealing to humans who like to own small, exotic pets with quizzical faces, distinctive tails, and incredible agility.     Ring-Tailed Lemurs are small, and the males only weigh about six pounds (and females are smaller).     Though their bodies aren’t large, their distinctive striped tails can be as long as 2 feet.  

The good, the bad, and the stinky

The tails have thirteen alternating bands of black and white, and though they are not prehensile, they do serve purposes besides being incredibly cute and distinctive, especially for males.   Have you ever seen those tour-group leaders who carry little flags so that everybody in the group can always follow easily?  Well, troops of traveling Lemurs (who unlike other kinds of lemurs, spend about 40% of their time on the ground)  stick those marvelous tails straight up in the air in order to keep a troop moving together.  

There’s another tail behavior, and it’s a good reason to NOT have a Ring-Tailed Lemur for a pet.   Like many animals in the wild, scent marking is very important to mating and to general claiming of territory and hierarchy within a troop of these primates.    The lemurs have scent glands on their chests and legs, and they use these to mark their foraging routes.   They also use the scent glands for something called “stink battles,” where they coat their tails in the pungent secretions and then flick their tails, kind of like snapping somebody with a wet beach towel, at other individuals; this habit is politely called wafting.   The “fragrance” (not one we humans appreciate) is often enough to establish dominance among males and also to discourage encroaching troops of other lemurs from entering a certain territory.  

Females run the show

But speaking of dominance, Ring-Tailed Lemur troops, which can range from 3 to 30 individuals, are controlled by females.  Dominant females get their first choice of food (they like to eat fruit, flowers, leaves, herbs, small vertebrates – in other words, they’re omnivores) and mates.    In terms of breeding, timing is everything, because the females are only receptive to males once a year – and the invitation to mate lasts only from 6 to 24 hours altogether!   Females generally give birth to just one infant, who will cling to their mother’s belly or back for the first 5-6 months of life.  After a young one is weaned, he or she will be cared for by all the females in the troop.   By the time a male reaches puberty – which is about at the age of 3 years, he’s got to leave and make his way in some other territory.   Females, though, generally stay with a given troop throughout their lives.

The Bad News

So how did native populations of Ring-Tailed Lemurs disappear so dramatically and quickly?  The usual causes – climate change, hunting, habitat fragmentation, and the pet trade all contributed to this decline, but because the Ring-Tailed Lemurs seemed to be so numerous where they didn’t really belong, like in people’s houses, or in animated movies, it took conservationists some time to notice that it was very difficult to find any of them in the wild anymore.     

The Good News

But there’s hope on the horizon.   First of all, once again ecotourism presents a great opportunity to bolster local economies as travelers eagerly anticipate seeing  these appealing creatures in  their natural habitats . Also, in the meantime zoos like the Reid Park Zoo are working steadily on increasing numbers, by participating in a Species Survival Plan for them.    There are also conservation organizations such as the Lemur Conservation Foundation, the Lemur Conservation Network (concentrating on  protecting habitat), and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, all working hard to learn more about  Ring-Tailed Lemurs and keep them alive and well for future generations!

By the way, you can go to the Reid Park Zoo’s website (https://reidparkzoo.org) and take a peek at the ZOO CAM that’s monitoring the troop of three Ring-Tailed Lemurs who call Tucson home! 

(The Reid Park Zoo Expansion website is not produced by the Zoo – we’re a group of Tucsonans who want you to know about the current and future animals that our Zoo is working to save).

If you’re somebody who likes to visit the Reid Park Zoo, or other reputable zoos and aquariums, chances are you are a little bit more concerned about environmental matters than the average person.   That’s great – but why is it happening?   Psychologists point out that those positive memories you’re getting by watching the animals in a beautiful environment may be a result of a few things:  the experience of seeing a baby elephant imitating her big sister, a pack of wild dogs joyfully running around and jostling one another, or even a rhino enjoying a mud bath can be quite enjoyable and vivid . These sights may even seem familiar and evoke emotions if you imitated your own big sister, jockeyed for position with siblings or friends, or just remember the pleasure of lolling in a cool spot on a hot day.   You’re forming pleasant psychological connections with creatures you would probably never encounter in your lifetime, if not for the Zoo.     

 Familiarity, connection with your own experiences, and even emotion all combine to make a simple moment, like those at the Zoo, significant and memorable.  Possibly you’re also sharing this experience with someone else, which only heightens memories.    And this sort of wonderful experience is a large part of what the Reid Park Zoo, or any quality zoo or aquarium, hopes you’ll gain from visiting.   But there’s something more!   Because you have a chance to learn about and experience these animals in person, not just on a video, you’re much more likely to care about them – and you’re open to learning ways to protect them.  That’s the mission of the Reid Park Zoo, “to create inspiring memories for all by connecting people and animals to ensure the protection of wild animals and wild places.”

Why Care About Conservation?

We expect organizations like the World Wildlife Federation to remind us that wildlife conservation is important, that all of us depend on biodiversity more than we realize, and that the fates of animals in the wild are inextricably linked to the fates of humans.   But you might be surprised that government agencies like FEMA tell us the same things, and international organizations like the United Nations link human sustainability to the preservation of wild places and wildlife as well.   All living things on earth are connected, and though we humans may consider ourselves the alpha species on the planet, in many ways we are dependent on something as simple as a blade of grass or a worm or insect underground that’s aerating the soil in which is grows.

Acceptance of the reality of climate change is growing, probably because even skeptics have to agree that temperatures are changing dramatically, as are severe weather events.   The good news is that the conversations are happening among individuals, in the media, and in governments.    The urgent challenge now is to educate and convince people that our actions may be key to mitigating this crisis. And preserving the wild and its inhabitants is certainly one component of such an effort.   But in order for us to want to mitigate climate change or save endangered species, many people might need to first understand all the benefits that a more stable planet confers upon us, and has always done.  That’s where government agencies, which are primarily concerned with human welfare, come in.  

Not quite ready for a bumper sticker

Have you ever seen a bumper sticker declaring SAVE THE SEA GRASS?  Well, probably not, and it’s not very catchy anyway, but let’s step back and consider sea turtles.   We’ve all seen those wonderful video clips of the young racing toward the ocean directly after hatching, often with helpful humans nearby to ward off opportunistic predators.     But the cuteness factor and attention seem to diminish once they make it to the water, and it’s hoped, to adulthood.   Sea turtles spend their lives underwater munching on sea grass.   And that sea grass depends on the constant trimming that the turtles and other sea creatures provide.  In turn, the sea grass nourishes and provides breeding grounds for many aquatic creatures.   So why should we be concerned about the decline in naturally occurring sea grass beds?   Well, not only the sea turtles but many species of fish depend on that grass, and three billion people around the world depend on the protein that seafood provides.   Also, if you’re concerned about economics, it’s worth knowing that 34 million people worldwide rely on fishing for a living today.  

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

That’s one reason that the U.N. has established the CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and Flora) guidelines as part of their Sustainable Development Goals, which all benefit humans.   These include Goal 14, Life Below Water (for example, sea grass!)  Goal 15, Life on Land (e.g. rainforests), and Goal 1, No Poverty.  Wait, what?  No poverty?     How does that relate to conservation?

SDG Goal 1 seeks “the economic advancement of all humankind”, and this inescapably requires the responsible stewardship of wildlife such as fish and reptiles, plants (because so many medicines and other products, like food, are plant based), and timber, which provides shelter and fuel.  It also requires the help of wildlife to maintain forests through seed dispersal, pest control, and the alteration of landscapes and maintenance of wildlife corridors.    

World Wildlife Day – Getting the Word Out

The United Nations General Assembly has been an advocate for conservation for many years, and established World Wildlife Day in 2013 as a way to bring attention to the importance of biodiversity. On the occasion of the Day in 2020, the World Wildlife Federation compiled six good reasons to care about wildlife conservation, which include

  • Protecting against Climate Change.    Grazing wildlife can minimize the severity of forest fires, by limiting fuel for their spread.  Also, wildlife provides health maintenance for forests by dispersing seeds, limiting potentially damaging insects, and clearing space for germinating trees.  
  • Wildlife is a critical food source in many parts of the world.  In tropical countries, especially, people rely on medium to large mammals, birds and reptiles for protein – millions of tons of meat per year.  Losing these critical sources of nutrition would cause an alarming increase in at the least childhood anemia, and at worst starvation.
  • Chemicals from plants and especially amphibians are crucial to modern pharmaceuticals.  More and more, medications are being developed to treat things like high blood pressure, depression, stroke, and even memory loss – and all using compounds from plants and especially frogs!  Even sheep’s wool offers us vitamin D3 and of course lanolin.  
  • Significance to cultures around the world.   Not as easily quantifiable as some of the other reasons,  our connection to wildlife and wild places has supported our mental, physical, and in some cases spiritual well being as long as humans have inhabited the planet.  Studies now verify the health benefits of being in nature and interacting with animals, even just being in the presence of wildlife.  The most studied effects include the reduction of cortisol levels (it’s the stress hormone) and also the lowering of heart rate and blood pressure – in other words, the attainment of tranquility in our increasingly urbanized world.
  • Improving soil health and fertility.  While it’s not as pleasant to imagine as nature’s tranquility, the digestion and redistribution of plant materials provided by wildlife in natural environments provided nutrients to the soils and even the waters of their habitats, allowing biodiversity to flourish. 
  • Maintaining ecological health and keeping wildlife corridors open.  Large species classified as “Keystone species,” like elephants, alligators, rhinos, and one you may not have heard of, the Bison bonasus, a species of bison living in the Carpathian Mountains, and who are the largest land mammals in Europe, specialize in altering the landscapes where they live in ways beneficial to other species.   Their size and strength and natural inclinations also allow them to take the lead in creating wildlife corridors, ways for many species to migrate in search of food or water.

Government agencies, conservation organizations, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, The United Nations, and countless individuals are on a mission to preserve the amazing biodiversity of our planet, which inspires a great deal of hope and optimism.     If you love animals, the mission becomes more personal to you – but even if you only value humans, it’s clear that our lives are immeasurably enhanced by efforts to preserve the natural world.   

So join in with a greater good – and as a start, stop into the Reid Park Zoo, check out the conservation and climate change initiatives that are everywhere on the grounds, and most of all, connect with the animals!   You’ll be glad you did; and quite possibly,  you’ll realize you can’t wait for the Reid Park Zoo expansion!  In the Pathway to Asia, you’ll be able to connect with even more species who need our advocacy.  And gain some great memories at the same time.

Live through a Tucson summer – sustainably!

Climatologists and environmentalists have worked for years to understand the causes and effects of global climate change, but what about the rest of us? They face the tricky task of convincing people that climate change is real, and the even trickier task of explaining to us all that our own lifestyles and habits may be making the problem worse.

But it’s not only rising panic about climate change – there is good news. Once-unthinkable legislative and industrial reforms (think of the auto industry beginning to convert to electric vehicles) are now becoming a reality. Wind and solar farms are sprouting up everywhere. And in a free market system, a new generation of homebuyers with a “greener” orientation are nudging the construction industry toward more sustainable materials and energy-efficient designs.

But can you and I slow down or begin to reverse some of the damage to the planet?

Absolutely! Here are three very simple ways to do your part, and it won’t even seem like a sacrifice! So to begin, here in the desert, especially in summer, it’s especially important to think about…..

  • WATER : Conserve it! The very simplest thing you can change is the way you brush your teeth. Do you leave the water running while you scrub? Turn it off and you could save 6 to seven gallons of water per day! And speaking of personal hygiene, baths use way more water than showers, so choose a shower when you can. Also, as they do at the Reid Park Zoo, how about using “gray water” – that is, recycling water from your washer, shower, or bathroom sink? Think about directing it outside to water your landscaping.
  • BOTTLES: It’s absolutely crucial that we drink enough water daily here in the arid Southwest, so it’s not surprising that a lot of Tucsonans go through numerous plastic water bottles, every day. And we’re NOT saying you should drink less water! Although major soft-drink companies are advertising new plastic bottle designs that are made from recyclable materials, how about avoiding single-use plastic bottles altogether? You can buy your own reusable bottle and carry it with you everywhere, but if you forget and need to buy some water, how about buying it in an ALUMINUM bottle or can? You can try one at the Reid Park Zoo!

    Brands like Rain, Just Water, PathWater, Aqua Hydrant, and Alkaline88 are already selling water in aluminum, and giants like Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Nestle are also developing aluminum bottles for popular brands like Dasani and Aquafina. Aluminum can be infinitely recycled, and it also costs less to recycle an aluminum bottle than to manufacture a brand new one. It goes without saying that this will only be helpful when you recycle. So bring your own water bottle, or try an aluminum one, then find the Zoo’s water station and stop there frequently for a fill up as you visit the Zoo this summer!
  • ENERGY: At home, pay attention to the echoing voices of your parents: turn off the lights, the computer, the TV, your phone, and any other devices whenever you’re not using them! Experiment with the temperature you keep your home – could you be comfortable with it at 75 degrees rather than 72? Can you use fans to circulate the air so that you use your energy-hungry AC system a little less? If it’s time to replace a major appliance, can you choose a new one with a great energy efficiency rating? Can you choose some locally-sourced food when you stock your kitchen? Also in the kitchen, is there a way to re-use a bottle or container? If not, please pay attention to recycling rules to be sure you’re recycling all you can.

Any or all of these small changes, multiplied by millions of us (or hundreds of thousands of Tucsonans) can translate into not only a more sustainable lifestyle for all of us, but also a healthier planet!

For more sustainability tips and examples, as well as a lot of cooling shade this summer, take a trip to the Reid Park Zoo! You’ll also get to see the many amazing species who like us, will benefit from our efforts to slow down climate change. And read the signs carefully – the beautiful and highly sustainable Reid Park Zoo expansion is coming our way soon!


Once upon a time cottonwood trees and riparian plants lined the river banks. Fish swam in the waters, and wildlife thrived.

Over 12,000 years ago early nomadic people found our desert to be rich and welcoming as they paused here in their hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Around 4,000 years ago people began to settle permanently and plant their crops at the base of Sentinel Peak (A Mountain), along the Santa Cruz River. The agrarian community grew. And the rivers flowed.

The mid-1500s marked the beginning of the Spanish influence, from explorers and gold seekers to missionaries and their accompanying military presidios. By the 1700s several missions had been established to convert the Indians to Catholicism. Still a Mexican village of a few hundred, the population of Tucson continued to grow. And the rivers still flowed.

The mid 1850s saw the influx of Anglos from the east. The U.S. government bought southern Arizona from Mexico and encouraged Americans to move westward. Tucson continued to grow. Residents dug shallow wells to access water. And still the rivers flowed.

By 1900 Tucson’s population was about 7,500. A municipal water system pumped and delivered clean water. Indoor plumbing did away with outhouses. Homes had the luxury of running water. Ten years later, the population was 13,000. Due to pumping and diversion for irrigation, the water table dropped enough that the flow of the Santa Cruz River could no longer be sustained. Water flowed above ground only after a heavy rain.

In 1922, recognizing the need for water in the arid west, the seven western states that bordered on or fed water into the Colorado River drew up The Colorado River Compact, allocating a specific amount of the river’s water to each state. Oddly, they based their figures on several unusually wet years which meant that, in effect, they over-allocated the contents of the river during normal flows. Further, when Mexico later pointed out that the river had its mouth in that country, more acre-feet were allocated out of thin air. Ah, well. For the most part that didn’t pose any real problem since there was more water than was needed at that time. When drier times followed the issue was ignored. 

Tucson’s population grew during and after World War II. Modern technology made it possible to pump ever deeper for water. However, by 1960 it was clear that continued pumping was unsustainable and would lead to serious subsidence of the land. Eventually the building of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a 336-mile canal to bring Colorado River water inland for the cities and farmers, seemed imperative.

By 1980 the population surpassed 500,000, and deep pumping continued. Finally, after 20 years of construction, the CAP finally reached completion in 1992. But joy over this “endless” source of water was short-lived when the new water’s chemistry/ph effectively scoured out years and years of deposits and rust from the city’s old pipes and delivered brown, smelly water to people’s homes. With massive water main breaks and leaks, that expensive disaster set back the use of the canal for another decade.

At the turn of the 21st century, the plan we use today had been implemented. Water from the canal is diverted into a series of shallow “recharge” basins from which it filters through the desert floor into the aquifer (basically an underground “valley” filled with gravel and sand) below where it can be stored and pumped out by Tucson Water for delivery to the city. You can easily see some of these basins from the Desert Museum. At this time, depending on where you are in Tucson, around 80% of the water that comes out of your faucets has the Colorado River as its origin.

And that brings us to the dilemma we face today. With ongoing drought and the impacts of climate change, the level of the Colorado River is dropping with no end in sight. Lakes Mead and Powell, the nation’s two largest reservoirs, are well below half and likely to continue to fall. If that continues, the mighty Hoover Dam will no longer be able to generate electricity or even release water downstream.

Yikes! What can we do to forestall disaster? For starters we can recognize that we live in a desert where water is precious. We must be mindful of the amount of water we use. Let us look back and learn from Tucson’s earlier residents. Since they had to haul it from the river (or the well), you can bet they didn’t waste it! The Reid Park Zoo offers some great examples and suggestions. As you walk around, read the signs to learn all that the Zoo is doing to conserve and what you can do at home. And rest assured that water conservation is already a priority in the plans for the Reid Park Zoo expansion.

Grow shade on your property to help it stay cooler and hold moisture in the land. Sculpt your yard into basins and swales to capture and slow the flow of any rain that falls. Plant native trees and bushes next to or in your basins.  Give water a second use. Direct water from your washing machine, shower, and bathroom sink outside to feed a thirsty plant.

In front of the Zoo’s Conservation Learning Center (CLC) there is a huge rain cistern to collect rainwater from the roof to use as needed during dry times. You may be amazed by how much water can be collected from one monsoon storm. For example, from a 1,000 square foot rooftop (25’ x 40’), if a single inch of rain falls, 600 gallons of water will flow into the tank. Since many people live in houses that are 2,000 square feet, that would mean 1,200 gallons of water! When you consider the rooftop space of the CLC, you’ll realize why that cistern is so gigantic.

If you’re a Tucson Water customer, check out the amazing rebates available to help you pay for installing rainwater and gray water harvesting systems.

In a normal year, Tucson receives 10-12 inches of rain. When you convert those inches into gallons, the surprising but calculated fact is that the amount of water used by the city of Tucson is LESS than the amount of rainfall! If we can harvest enough rain, we wouldn’t even need the CAP water.  We don’t need expensive, complex equipment and technology. We simply need the will to take up the challenge. When we do, we may find that in fact it doesn’t feel like pain and sacrifice; it feels like satisfaction and success. 

And our rivers can flow again.

Walking the Walk

Supporting the Reid Park Zoo expansion is a win-win-win for Tucson, for conservation, and yes, even for the fight against climate change.

NASA defines climate change as a “long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates.” Every summer here in Tucson, you’ll hear somebody say, “It’s hotter than it used to be!” and if you’ve lived here for a while, I’m sure you agree, as do scientists. Rising or falling temperatures globally has huge implications for us as humans, and of course for the animals in the ocean, on land, and in the air. 

It’s hotter and there’s less water available? This is bad for animal reproduction and survival, and ultimately for our own. Floods and tornados? They cause habitat loss for animals and habitation loss for humans. Heatwaves (we can relate) and wildfires? In the last year, and especially in the west, we’ve experienced  major damage to and loss of native plants, species, and human dwellings.  

Catastrophic weather events seem to be increasing, and we’ve seen the frightening way they can instantly upset the delicate balance of ecosystems and the amazing biodiversity our planet supports. But can we as individuals do anything to mitigate climate change right here in Tucson? Absolutely.

Here are a few simple things you can do, right away, to fight climate change

  • First, try to decrease the number of things you throw away.  For example, store your leftovers in reusable storage containers, and especially get a real water bottle which can be refilled over and over again. 
  • Try reusable grocery bags (they cost about $1 at most local stores), or if you do get the plastic ones from the store, take them back there for recycling the next time you shop.    
  • Recycle whenever you can, because recycling something like a soda can uses less energy than manufacturing a new one!  It doesn’t sound like much, but tossing that can into your recycle bin can save enough energy to run your television for three hours!  
  • Use less water, by taking showers instead of baths, or the big one – turn off the water while you brush your teeth.  It’s amazing, but this one small action can save up to 200 gallons of water a month, especially important here in the desert.    
  • Eat more vegetables! Mom would approve, too. Try having just one meatless meal per week – you’ll improve your health, you’ll save money, and you’ll be helping to reduce greenhouse gasses.
  • Pass one of these tips on to one other person! That is how positive change begins and grows.

The most effective way for us all to mitigate climate change, though requires a somewhat greater change to our habits: limiting the use of fossil fuels in our daily lives. It might not be in reach for you to purchase an electric car or convert your home to solar energy, but you can make a decision to walk or bike to nearby places rather than driving there, or  to carpool, or even to use public transportation when you can.      

A VERY green place, literally and figuratively

Where can you find more information about what you can do to start making a safer and more sustainable world for all of us?   

How about visiting the Reid Park Zoo? As an accredited AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) member institution, our Zoo has already made a commitment to protecting the animals in their care, as well as their habitats and relatives in the wild. The Reid Park Zoo supports numerous conservation initiatives, inside the zoo and abroad, but their commitment to the mitigation of climate change may not be as well known. Let’s state for the record that the Reid Park Zoo definitely walks the walk when it comes to creating a more sustainable future for us all!


Three of the newest buildings at the Zoo, the Conservation Learning Center, the Elephant Care Center, and the amazing Animal Health Center, were built using “green” construction. This includes solar power, highly efficient HVAC systems, and the use of recycled and sustainable materials. For example, the ceilings in the Conservation Learning Center (CLC) are made from recycled jeans – really! That’s not all – the buildings incorporate natural lighting whenever possible and were finished with non-toxic, low fume paints and adhesives. The Reid Park Zoo even received a LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for the amazing energy efficiency and sustainable construction of the CLC, and it was the first building in Southern Arizona to receive this prestigious designation.

Recycling and water usage

Everywhere on the grounds, the Zoo participates in the City of Tucson’s blue barrel recycling program, and recycle bins are everywhere to encourage guests to participate too. The Zoofari Café serves  tasty food on biodegradable dishes. In the gift shop, your purchases will never leave the store in plastic – you’ll receive a paper or reusable bag. The only straws allowed anywhere in the Zoo are part of reusable water bottles or souvenir cups. And right now, the Zoo is transitioning from the sale of plastic water bottles to reusable aluminum ones. Luckily, you can now find a “bottle fill” water station near the front entrance, so feel free to bring your own water bottle from home.     

Speaking of water, the Zoo needs a lot in order to keep the animal habitats clean and the grounds lush and green. But they use gray water – highly treated wastewater, also called reclaimed water, for these purposes. Even this water is conserved, because the keepers use low-flow, highly pressurized hoses to clean the animals’ indoor environments.

It’s not too late

According to scientists from NASA, there’s a chance we can still avoid the worst effects of climate change. The Reid Park Zoo is certainly doing its part, and they’re ready to help us do the same. And it’s a sure bet that the new construction in the Reid Park Zoo expansion will be the greenest in town!