The Louisiana Lemur Foundation officially became a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2017 and was founded by an all-woman group of zookeepers and conservationists. “The Lemur Ladies” are: Tina Aust, Jessica Deville, Jamie Marks, Melissa Passman, and Samantha Zarin. This group of women has a strong passion for primate conservation and wants to put that passion to good use. The foundation's main objective is to build a facility in southeast Louisiana that will:
1. Provide a much-needed space to rescue and rehabilitate lemurs from the pet trade.
2. Serve the southeast Louisiana community as an outdoor classroom to learn about lemurs and wildlife conservation in general.
3. Support and participate in lemur conservation efforts worldwide to help save these critically endangered primates.
Conservation is the act of protecting species and their habitats to promote biodiversity and prevent extinction.
Conservation is the act of protecting species and habitats to prevent extinction and promote growth; to keep things from getting worse and to help things get better.
The short answer is: it truly is a “circle of life”. All of Earth’s species are connected; the fate of one species can affect others, including ourselves.
Lemurs are humans’ oldest living ancestor! Not only can we learn a lot about primate evolution from lemurs, but the kinship between the oldest primates (lemurs) and the youngest primates (humans) should especially inspire us to protect these amazing creatures.
We work with some of the country’s foremost lemur conservation groups to support their efforts both in Madagascar and in the United States.
President & CEO
Tina has a long-standing love of wildlife, as evidenced by the five years she spent as a volunteer at the Los Angeles Zoo where she gained hands-on experience in the primate department. When Tina and her family relocated to Louisiana, Tina interned at the New Orleans Audubon Zoo in the primate department and was eventually offered a keeper position. It was during this time that Tina developed a passion for lemurs and was inspired to create something big… In 2016, Tina proposed the idea for the Louisiana Lemur Foundation and the rest, as they say, is history!
Executive Vice President & Director of Internal Affairs
Jessica is a lifelong wildlife lover and has always known this passion would guide her career. She graduated in 2014 from Southeastern Louisiana University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Science concentrated in Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Science. Upon graduation, she participated in a study abroad program in Costa Rica researching sea turtles with the Sea Turtle Conservancy. She then completed internships at the Monroe Zoo and Audubon Zoo before being hired at the Baton Rouge Zoo as a Primate/Carnivore keeper, and then at the Audubon Zoo as a Primate keeper. She has also worked as a vet tech at several local animal hospitals. Lemurs are where her heart lies though. Jessica’s work for the Louisiana Lemur Foundation has been her most rewarding professional experience yet!
Vice President & Director of Research
Jamie's passion for scientific research grew during her time as a Research Assistant at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. She graduated from Indiana University, with a B.S. in Biology and a focus in animal behavior. Jamie then moved to New Orleans, LA to continue her animal research path by completing internships in the primate and hoofstock departments, at the New Orleans Audubon Zoo. She is currently working on her PhD in Integrative Biology at the University of New Orleans.
Vice President & Director of Animal Management
Melissa graduated from the University of Louisiana with a B.S. in Biological Sciences and a minor in Psychology in 2009. She has 3 years of experience in emergency animal medical care and over 9 years of experience working as an animal care professional/zookeeper at 3 different zoological facilities. She is currently the lead Primate Keeper at the Audubon Zoo.
Vice President & Director of Communications Outreach
Samantha earned her Bachelor's degree in animal science with minors in nutrition and psychology from North Carolina State University in 2016. Her desire to make a difference began at a young age when she volunteered at an animal shelter which led to her work in veterinarian offices. She has completed internships at the Franklin Park Zoo in both the Hoofstock and Tropical Forest departments as well as the Primate department at the Audubon Zoo. She is still very active in the zookeeping field today.
Director of Veterinary Medicine
Dr. Pence received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from Louisiana State University, following her B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries from Mississippi State University. Her commitment to animals is well evidenced by her repertoire of experiences, such as with oil spill clean-up, being a zookeeper assistant, and annually giving lectures in the scientific community regarding wildlife nutrition.
The Louisiana Lemur Foundation is committed to conservation, education, & scientific discovery by providing expert care to lemurs, participating in non-invasive research endeavors, & educating the public about all things lemur including the importance of their conservation & of biodiversity in general.