|Duke Lemur Center, "Tonga Soa" means "Welcome" in Malagasy|
A year ago, in November, when we were in North Carolina for Thanksgiving, we did a family outing to the Duke Lemur Center located near Duke University in Durham, NC where a very knowledgeable docent gave us a tour of the facilities and told us more about lemurs than we ever knew before.
More than 200 lemurs live at the Duke Lemur Center. It is the largest group of lemurs outside of Madagascar and is a place where scientists learn about lemurs close-up and study them in ways that would be impossible in nature.
|Prosimians include lemurs, bush babies, and lorises|
Lemurs are prosimians that live on the island of Madagascar and the nearby Comora Islands. (The first prosimians lived 55 million years ago.) Lemurs once lived in every part of the island but now, due to habitat destruction, are found only around the edges. Wild lemurs often live high in the trees and in remote places and many are active only at night. It is hard to study lemurs where they live in the wild. The DLC provides the opportunity for scientists to learn more about these unusual and endangered animals.
|Sifakas in their Outdoor Enclosure|
Most of the lemurs at the DLC live in family groups in buildings with access to both inside and outside facilities. Each lemur has its own room with a door to an outside cage. Openings between cages allow the animals to be together or stay alone. We enjoyed watching the lemurs in their outdoor cages, where they scampered about, seeming to enjoy the bright, sunny day as much as we were.
|Map of Madagascar|
Many lemurs are nocturnal (which explains why they often have such large eyes.) At the DLC, the nocturnal animals occupy rooms that are dark during the day with the only light coming from low, red lamps, which has the effect of starlight or moonlight. Because it is dark, the lemurs move around as they would in the night, which allows scientists to observe their behavior without having to work in the wee hours of the night. At night, bright lights are turned on in the nocturnal room and the lemurs go to sleep. When we visited, it took a while for our eyes to adjust to the dark before we could see the animals.
In the warm months (April to October) some of the lemurs are allowed to live in the forest that surrounds the Research Center. There they explore, climb trees, and hunt for food just as wild lemurs do in Madagascar. A fence around the 14.3 acre forest allows them plenty of room to roam. In the forest, scientists observe the lemurs as they move about and interact with one another. Since we were there in November, all the animals were inside, but if you visit during the summer, there is an option of an outdoor tour.
Tours: To find out about tours of the Duke Lemur Center and how to make reservations, click here.