The Cincinnati Zoo is one of only three zoos in the country to exhibit Pottos. Pottos are nocturnal primates that live in the tropical forests of Africa. Potto in Afrikans means “softly-softly” for the fact they move throughout the trees without making a sound. In addition, Pottos have a modified spinal process on their vertebrae which projects through the shoulder blades to create a “shield”. They use this shield as defense and actually “neck butt” their opponents, pretty cool!
While distantly related to monkeys and apes, Pottos are grouped with primitive primates called Prosimians which includes lorises and lemurs. If you know your latin, “Pro” means before and “simian” means monkey or ape, so developmentally they come before these higher primates.
We are one of the only zoos to have successfully bred and reared Pottos in captivity. However, little is known about their reproductive biology. Michael Guilfoyle, Head Keeper of Cincinnati Zoo’s Nocturnal House, has successfully managed our Potto population and has been lucky enough to have discovered many Potto babies shortly after their birth. The most recent baby still had the placenta attached when Michael discovered it less than one hour old. The baby arrived on December 8, 2010 to proud Potto parents Lucy and Jabari.
Michael was interested in incorporating reproductive science into managing Cincinnati Zoo’s Potto population. He convinced the research arm of the Zoo, CREW, to conduct a longitudinal hormone and ultrasound study of the species. Michael feeds a small amount of yogurt mixed with food dye to each Potto several times a week so he can then identify and collect fecal samples excreted from known individuals. The samples are then analyzed in CREW’s endocrine laboratory. In addition, every month, we conduct an ultrasound exam of each female Potto housed with a male to detect signs of pregnancy.
October 7, 2010 ultrasound exam of Lucy’s baby. The baby was quite active during the exam- you can see it moving its head and arms.
Thanks to the romantic sparks generated by Lucy and Jabari, we were able to generate the first fecal hormone profile of pregnancy in the Potto! In addition, we were able to detect the pregnancy via ultrasound. Check out the video at the end of blog! Right now we are monitoring another female Potto named Tiombe. Based on fecal hormone results, Tiombe is exhibiting regular reproductive cycles. In October, Michael paired Tiombe with a male. Keep your fingers crossed that this pair will soon breed so Tiombe can become a first time Potto mom.