Tennessee Aquarium Gives Guests Some Adorable Reasons To Look Up

Opening of Lemur Forest Taps Vertical Space, Tells An Important Conservation Story

Thursday, February 16, 2017 - by Thom Benson

Tennessee Aquarium guests have had little cause to look up as they explored beneath the iconic glass peaks of the Ocean Journey building – until now.
Leading up to the grand opening of the Lemur Forest exhibit on March 1, anyone planning a visit to the building’s top floor will want to start exercising their neck muscles now.
A four-month renovation has completely transformed the Tropical Cove, transporting guests into the spiny forests and rainforests of Madagascar.
This lush environment soon will echo with the calls and sway beneath the paws of seven endangered Ring-tailed Lemurs and a pair of critically endangered Red-ruffed Lemurs.
These charismatic, acrobatic primates will be leaping through an exhibit space designed, from the ground up, to take advantage of Ocean Journey’s most distinctive — and under-utilized — feature: its tremendous vertical space.
“When you walk in Tropical Cove, there are these huge peaks overhead, but there wasn’t much going on up there,” said Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s director of forests and animal behavior. “We thought, ‘Is there some way we can use that space to create a more enriching environment for the animals?’”

Lemur Forest is the end result of three and a half years of research and months of consultation with experts at other institutions that care for lemurs. Early in that process, Aquarium staff concluded that, especially when exhibiting two species side by side, it was vital to make their habitat as varied and stimulating as possible.

In Lemur Forest, the Ring-tails and Red-ruffs can clamber to perches more than 30 feet above the ground and scamper through more than 120 horizontal feet of terrain full of ups and downs. Part of this habitat includes an aerial skyway arching just over the entrance to the Cove, offering guests an immediate opportunity to lay eyes on the lemurs.

“We’ve created a really dynamic environment that affords these animals a lot of choices,” Collins said.  “The exhibit gives us a lot of options to ensure they remain healthy and happy.”

Beyond being exciting to watch, lemurs represent an important conservation story. All of the more than 100 known species of lemur are native to Madagascar. Like many islands, this African nation is a hotspot of biodiversity, an environment where three-quarters of the native plant and animal species can be found nowhere else.
Lemurs are the most endangered class of mammals on the planet. In Madagascar, all lemur populations are declining, and more than two-thirds are classified as endangered or critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
That makes ensuring the health and wellbeing of captive populations all the more important, said Chelsea Feast, a lemur expert who relocated to the Aquarium from the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Md.
“They are, from a conservational standpoint, an animal that needs attention brought to it,” she said.

Although lemurs are the exhibit’s namesake, they aren’t the only newcomers to Ocean Journey. The Ring-tails, who spend less time in the trees than the fruit-loving Red-ruffs, will share ground space in Lemur Forest with several knobby-shelled  — and critically endangered — Radiated Tortoises, another native Malagasy species.

Aquarium guests will be able to enjoy two new “Leaping Lemurs” presentations each day at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. These additions to the menu of Extraordinary Experiences programs provide opportunities to learn more about these amazing creatures from the experts who care for them. They will also discover how the Aquarium is supporting conservation measures in Madagascar to save lemurs and other imperiled species. “You’ll see the Red-ruffed Lemurs hanging upside-down using their incredibly strong back feet,” Feast said. “We’ll also show how the Ring-tails use their iconic black and white tails for balance. Occasionally you’ll see them sun-bathing in a yoga-like seated position which looks pretty comical. We call it ‘sun-worshipping.’”

The transformation of Tropical Cove also includes dramatic improvements to Stingray Bay. The walls of the Aquarium’s largest touch tank are now significantly thinner and smoother to make it easier than ever for guests, particularly younger visitors, to lay fingers on its many ray and shark species.

Guests are also now able to enjoy an exotic display of colorful orchids and insectivorous plants housed housed in a lava rock display installed at the south end of the room just before construction of Lemur Forest began.

The Aquarium’s Tropical Cove, Appalachian Cove Forest and Delta Country exhibit have always been popular with Aquarium guests. Recent improvements such as River Otter Falls, Alligator Bayou, and now Lemur Forest make these living forests even more immersive.

“Aquarium staff and volunteers are eager for everyone to experience Lemur Forest, a project which was shaped by input from so many individuals working as a team,” said Jackson Andrews, the Aquarium’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing our guests experience how this already popular gallery has become even more fun and captivating.”

Georgia On My Mind Day Is June 22

Georgia On My Mind Day at the Georgia Visitor Information Center in Ringgold will feature tourist destinations, attractions, hotels, and more on Friday, June 22, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.  The Ringgold Georgia Visitor Information Center is at 2726 I-75 South. Participants will include:  Villa Rica Main Street, Ellijay/Gilmer County CVB, Georgia State Parks, Woodstock ... (click for more)

This Week's Tennessee Tourism Round Up

Grab a blanket and head to a free concert, a laser show under the stars or a movie in the park. Discover clues to a secret Shakespeare play, learn a new skill or enjoy the summer at festivals across the state. Here’s what’s going on across Tennessee this week. For a complete list of events, visit  tnvacation.com/calendar . Ongoing Memphis –Levitt Shell’s  ... (click for more)

Strong Winds Wreak Havoc In Chattanooga; Thousands Lose Power

A storm with wind gusts up to 70 mph did considerable damage in downtown Chattanooga around 2 p.m. on Saturday. Fencing along Miller Park was twisted onto a nearby lane of traffic on Market Street. A sizable tree was split, causing it to fall across Cherry Street between Third and Fourth streets. A number of traffic lights were knocked out of service. Several thousand ... (click for more)

2 Shot In Separate Incidents Early Saturday Morning; 1 Victim Is A Juvenile Girl

Two people were shot early Saturday morning in separate incidents. The first incident was at  3:30 a.m. when the Chattanooga Police Department responded to a person shot on the 1000 block of North Willow Street.  Upon arrival, officers made contact with the victim who was suffering from a gunshot wound.    HCEMS transported the victim to a local hospital ... (click for more)

Protecting Family Homes On Signal Mountain

The Signal Mountain Town Council will vote at their upcoming July 9 meeting on whether to approve a controversial rezoning application regarding property located at the northwestern corner of Albert Road and Taft Highway.  Prior to the rezoning request, Albert Road was the redline on Taft Highway past which commercial development within the town did not extend. This rezoning ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Claude And "Mr. John"

There are some who believe this last week has been a devastating one for our community, losing two of our most beloved “builders” within three days of one another. Claude Ramsey, who spent over 40 years in public service and because of the type man he was never lost a political race, died on Monday after a hard fight with illness at the end. On Thursday we lost “Mr. John” Franklin, ... (click for more)