Iron storage disease and nutritional values in captive ruffed lemurs


Iron storage disease (hemochromatosis), the accumulation of excess iron in internal organs, was once common in captive lemurs.  The cause is unknown, but genetic predisposition and dietary factors such as increased dietary iron and Vitamin C, and decreased tannins are thought to play a role in the syndrome.  Prior to our study, excess iron accumulation could be diagnosed only by liver biopsy or on post-mortem exam. We were interested in determining the prevalence of iron storage disease in the captive black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) population, understanding the nutritional parameters that might influence the disease, and developing non-invasive techniques to diagnose the disease such as the serum ferritin assay used to diagnose and monitor iron storage disease in humans.  

In collaboration with the researchers at the Kansas State University, School of Veterinary Medicine, we developed a serological test that could measure serum ferritin in ruffed lemurs.   Serum samples from 63 captive Varecia variegata from throughout North America were analyzed to develop reference ranges for serum ferritin and other iron related parameters, as well as numerous vitamins and minerals.   The results were published and have since been used by zoo clinicians to assess nutritional status and to evaluate accumulated systemic iron stores and response to treatment for iron storage disease of captive Varecia. Subsequent studies and communications have suggested that the prevalence of iron storage disease in captive lemurs has diminished.


Crawford, G et al.  Survey and Clinical application of serum iron parameters in captive black and white ruffed lemurs.  Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 2005

Andrews, G et al. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays to quantitate serum ferritin in black and white ruffed lemurs. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 2005

Williams, C et al Evaluation of iron status by analysis of serum iron parameters Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2008

Crawford, G et al. Survey of minerals and fat soluble vitamins in captive black and white ruffed lemurs Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 2009