Shaq with a mouse lemur. Photo courtesy of Mireya Mayor.
One of the world’s most recognizable professional basketball players has used his stature to highlight one of the world’s smallest primates: the mouse lemur from Madagascar.
Shaquille O’Neal, a NBA legend who retired last year and earned a doctorate degree in education from Barry University in 2012, posed with a mouse lemur at Zoo Miami in March. The lemur was on loan from the Duke Primate Center in North Carolina.
The diminutive primate, which measures only five inches and weighs two ounces, was dwarfed by the 7’1” 325-pound Shaq.
Shaq was joined by Mireya Mayor, an author and National Geographic explorer who focuses on primates. Mayor is involved in lemur conservation through her work at the Centre Valbio, which is based in the rainforests of Madagascar and aims to better understand and protect the island’s endangered wildlife and habitats.
Shaq with Mireya Mayor and a mouse lemur. Photo courtesy of Mireya Mayor.
“Having an ambassador like Shaq speaking for the lemurs is a great way of raising awareness about their plight,” Mayor told mongabay.com. “Centre ValBio is extremely grateful that Shaq is lending his star power to bring attention to the endangered animals and forests of Madagascar”.
Madagascar’s forests and wildlife are at risk from ongoing deforestation for mining and subsistence agriculture, as well as illegal rosewood logging. Today less than 10 percent of Madagascar is covered with forest.
Shaq with a tiny mouse lemur. Shaq scored 28,596 points and grabbed 13,099 rebounds during his 19-year career. He earned a doctorate degree in education from Barry University in Miami earlier this year. Photo courtesy of Mireya Mayor.
There are several species of mouse lemurs in Madagascar. The primates are of particular interest to scientists because in captivity they develop brain lesions similar to those found in Alzheimer’s patients. Researchers are thus studying the diet of wild mouse lemurs to see whether plant compounds can help protect against the onset of the debilitating disease.
Mouse lemurs are the smallest lemurs and among the tiniest primates in the world. They are found in virtually all of Madagascar’s forests where they feed on insects, fruit, and plant sap. Mouse lemurs are nocturnal and betray their presence with high-pitched chirps.
Over the past decade more than 40 species of lemur have been described, including several mouse lemurs. There are now more than 110 lemur species Madagascar, the only place lemurs occur naturally in the wild.