, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 987-1005

Can Captive-Bred Varecia variegata variegata Adapt to a Natural Diet on Release to the Wild?

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Abstract

We compared the diets of 3 groups of released captive-bred Varecia variegata variegata (RG1, RG2, RG3) in the Betampona Reserve to that recorded for a resident wild group, between 1998 and 2001. We investigated whether the released captive-bred Varecia, from differing captive backgrounds, could cope with seasonal changes in climate and consequently food availability, finding sufficient food to meet their nutritional requirements, and dietary choices and selection. We collected data on diet, including plant part, family, genus and, if known, species. In addition, we collected data on seasonal variation in dietary composition. Dietary overlap is significant at the familial level between RG1/RG3 and the wild group. There is some dietary overlap between RG2 and the wild group, but it is not significant. In general, RG1 and RG3 more closely followed the dietary choices and seasonal changes in diet exhibited by the wild group. We conclude that Varecia raised in free-ranging environments are better adapted to meet their nutritional requirements in the wild than those raised in cages are. However, even they struggle to deal with seasonal climatic changes and consequent changes in food availability. We suggest that future re-introduction efforts for primates include attempts to integrate released individuals rapidly into wild groups so that they can learn to cope with a seasonal environment through direct observation of wild conspecifics.