How Data is Helping Save the World's Most Endangered Mammals

When an extremely rare aye-aye lemur named Agatha was born undersized at the Duke Lemur Center earlier this year, there was immediate cause for concern. There are only 23 captive aye-ayes in the US, and the wild population is at "very high risk of extinction" according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Luckily, the Duke Lemur Center (DLC) uses SAS to compile and analyze data on every lemur they've ever housed, cared for and studied over the DLC's 50-year history -- that's more than 4,000 animals across 31 species. And as you can imagine, that's a lot of data.

The DLC has huge databases full of information on everything about their lemurs -- from behavior to food preferences to medical history and more, including birth weights. Because the DLC has records for so many previous aye-aye births, animal care staff could quickly calculate that the new infant's birth weight was only 67% of the average lemur birth weight, and they placed Agatha on intensive monitoring and supplementation.

And that's just one example of how the DLC uses data to nurture, study and protect the world's fragile lemur population. In the early days of the center, the exhaustive notes and observations made on lemurs were handwritten, which made data analysis and sharing difficult.

But several years ago, a data management program was established, and now management of all of the lemur data is overseen by full-time employees who analyze the research data, which can be used to study lemur behavior, genomics, physiology, paleontology -- and to fuel conservation efforts. And now that data is accessible to researchers and conservationists all over the world.

Agatha at three months old. Photo courtesy of the Duke Lemur Center.

Agatha at three months old. Photo courtesy of the Duke Lemur Center.

A group of SAS' interns became closely involved with the project this summer, and began spreading the story of the lemurs to others at SAS.

"Never in my life could I have imagined myself discussing data analysis inches away from a group of playing lemurs and having that be just another day as a SAS intern," says SAS intern Briana Ullman. "But since I've been at SAS, I've learned that this is just one of many examples of how SAS helps the world use data for good."

This blog originally appeared on SAS Voices.

Anne-Lindsay Beall, Editor, SAS Customer Intelligence Knowledge Exchange

Anne-Lindsay is the editor of the Customer Intelligence Knowledge Exchange at SAS, editor-in-chief of sascom magazine, and editor of SAS Retail News. She has developed a comprehensive portfolio of business and marketing communications during her career spanning 14 years of magazine and marketing work.

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Re: Data For Good
  • 10/12/2017 9:20:30 AM

I agree that we have a big problem in these areas with our current administration. I am given hope , however, byt the way many private companies and local governments have stepped up to do the right thing.This won't last forever.

Re: Data For Good
  • 10/11/2017 8:27:36 PM

We certaintly need a government that appreciates both data and our ecosystems.  Currenty, we seem to have one that disregards both. 

However, I do take great heart that other countries do seem to have an appreciation for both.

I did not realize lemurs were endangered.  They're rather cute so lets keep them around. 

Data For Good
  • 10/11/2017 9:20:33 AM

It's truly fascinating to read of the ways that data is being used in new and specialized ways as in this example of endangered lemurs, to better the world and it's natural environment. I would be hopeful that local and national governments appreciate the usefulness of the results obtained and continue to search for more ways to put data to use for other problems that can be solved harvesting points of data from the natural world.