Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bonjour, Mouse lemurs!

by Andrea Katz, Live Animal Curator

Our nine new mouse lemurs have finally arrived from France! These five females and four males, born in Dr. Martine Perret’s research center near Paris, will be the core of our rejuvenated breeding program for these fascinating, endearing nocturnal lemurs. The animals are all young, most under two years of age. Weighing less than 100 grams, a mouse lemur could sit in a teacup with room to spare.

Several of you responded generously to help fund this mouse lemur import, and we thank you again. It’s taken a full year to obtain all of the required permits, make arrangements for quarantine at a licensed Center for Disease Control (CDC) primate quarantine facility, and obtain confirmed bookings on a flight from Paris to the U.S. Without a doubt, this was the most complicated animal transfer we’ve organized in a long time.

But it was all worthwhile when finally in September, the nine mouse lemurs boarded a non-stop Air France flight to Chicago. At the airport, they were met by veterinary staff of the Saint Louis Zoo (SLZ), among our closest colleagues in the lemur world. SLZ had agreed to provide CDC quarantine for the animals, beginning the moment the animal crates touched down on U.S. soil (required for all primates entering the country). Our Veterinarian, Cathy Williams, assisted the Saint Louis Zoo team, helping with the physical exams on arrival and with the transition of the animals into quarantine. After a 30-day quarantine period with no health problems, the mouse lemurs boarded another flight from Saint Louis to Durham. With much excitement ,relief, and exclamations all around about how incredibly cute these tiny creatures are, we welcomed them to the DLC on October 15th.

The mouse lemurs are now housed in our Nocturnal Building, under the expert care of technicians Bevan Clark, Beth Grim and Rebecca Borns. Their special diet consists of crushed primate chow, diced fruits and veggies, crickets and mealworms. We have great hopes that spring will bring successful breeding, with infants born in the summer after a short gestation period of only two months. This breeding program is critical for the DLC’s research and conservation goals for nocturnal lemurs, and also for the future survival of mouse lemurs in all of North America. Before we obtained these young mouse lemurs, the species was dying out in captive programs because the few remaining animals were too old to reproduce. So raise a glass- of French wine if you’d like- to welcome the new mouse lemurs to the DLC!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hear! Hear! Here's to lemur ears!

by Dr. Sarah Zehr
We often make the assumption that the animals around us hear things in the same way we do, yet there are common examples that show that they don’t. The animal known as the human teenager, for example, with its young ears can hear a cell phone ringtone that is at a frequency that most adults, with their aging ears, cannot hear. What, then, does an animal of an entirely different species hear? Marissa Ramsier and Andy Cunningham, of Nate Dominy’s lab at UC Santa Cruz wanted to know. Having already studied the hearing of many other primate species, a trip to the DLC was obviously in order to find out how prosimian primates hear. They made multiple visits and tested the hearing of many of our species, including both nocturnal and diurnal animals. They are still analyzing their data, which should provide an interesting complement to the many vocalization studies that have been conducted over the years.
Of course we care about lemurs in general, but this project also made some fascinating discoveries about some of our individual animals in particular. First, as any of you who have been on the tour path know, the air handling unit by the main building can be quite loud. We were concerned that being near it constantly may have damaged the hearing of animals who live in nearby enclosures. So we tested their hearing. Much to our relief, there were no differences between their hearing and the hearing of other animals of the same species who do not live close to the air unit. It may be that the sound frequency of the equipment, which we find very loud and annoying, is not one that is as prominent in the range of hearing of lemurs.
Although there was no hearing loss in those lemurs, when the hearing of two of our lorises was tested (one slow loris, Lahkshmani, and one pygmy slow loris, Skimmer), they were found to be almost completely deaf! Which explained a lot. Such as why Lahkshmani, who is in our animal training program and is supposed to respond to a whistle, has been terrible at training. She simply couldn’t hear the signal. Knowing the auditory limitations of these two animals will allow us to better care for them. In addition, the fact that the only two animals to show significant hearing loss are lorises may be an indication that there is something interesting about their physiology. Or maybe it’s just coincidence. In any case, the moral of the story is that the research conducted here not only enlightens us about prosimians as a whole, but it can also help us learn about special characteristics of the animals who live at the DLC.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Remembering Luisa

A series of emails….

I first met Luisa when she contacted me with an interest to become a volunteer at the Duke Lemur Center. We were scheduled to meet at a new volunteer orientation. The orientation came and went, but Luisa was not there. I received an email that night informing me that she and her bike had a long, unexpected hour together!

I am sorry, but I couldn't find the center. I thought I had the right instructions, but I spent almost an hour riding my bike from cameron blvd to erwin rd and back again, with no cellphone.
The worst part is that I just took a look in the map and I was pretty close to the center.

I emailed her back and let her know that she is not the first to have a hard time finding the Center. We are tucked away in the forest with no signs to direct a lost biker.

The next time we were scheduled to meet, Luisa took a cab. From the moment I met her she had a huge smile on her face and was very excited to be at the Center. During our meeting she told me about herself and that she was an exchange student from Brazil. During an orientation I generally go over the volunteer requirements at the beginning of the meeting. However, Luisa and I got to talking and it was not until the end of our meeting that I mentioned the required 6 month commitment to the volunteer program for all new volunteers. Luisa informed me that she would be leaving in December. After talking with Luisa for 45 minutes, it was obvious that she was very excited to help the lemurs and was ready to work! Making an exception was an easy decision.

While the volunteer program only requires volunteers to complete one 4 hour shift a week, Luisa did two shifts a week. Starting in September, she reliably volunteered her time on Monday and Wednesday mornings. In early November she asked to come in for two Sunday shifts. The two extra shifts would earn her a “Lemur Experience”. A “Lemur Experience” is awarded to a volunteer after they complete 16 shifts. The experience is designed for the volunteer to choose what aspect of DLC they want to learn more about – It generally takes 4 months to earn a “Lemur Experience”…Luisa did it in two months.

So, with my two extra Sunday shifts I'll be able to complete 17 shifts. Not bad for two months of work, hun? hahahaha

I would like to talk to you about my Lemur Experience, because I am afraid we won't have time to do anything...what do you think? My family arrives Sunday December 13th, and my last work day will be the Wednesday 9th. I can't believe it's only 3 weeks away! I've already talked to Keith about a tour on the 14th, before we start our trip across the east coast. I am glad I'll be going home soon, but I'll miss the Center so much...

In my reply, I suggested a few ideas including getting her picture with a lemur. I ended with,

Thank you so much for all of the time that you have given to the Center.
We are sad to see you go....I hope to see you during your last week.

Luisa replied,


I'll miss everybody at the center...I feel so useful there! And everybody is always happy, and the lemurs are so cuuute! hahaha I guess people that live around animals are special.

There are no groups free-ranging now, are there? I really would like to see them in the wild. I'll read the manual and see if there's any particular experience I would like to have, but the idea of taking a picture with the lemurs is good too! It's something I can keep forever...

Right before Thanksgiving, Luisa asked me to write up “some kind of proof that I volunteered on the center, like a letter for example, something simple, short.”

On the Monday after Thanksgiving I wrote her back,

Hi Luisa,

Sure, I would be glad to write up something. Can I beg that you stay??? I will have it printed up and give it to Erin. I am sorry that I will not see you in person before you go. I will meet with Erin tomorrow and see if she can get you to as many training sessions as possible on Wednesday!!!! I will also check with David H. regarding a picture.
Thank you soooo much for all of the time you have given to the center. You will be missed!

I did not find out until the next day that Luisa was killed on Sunday. As I write this, the reality is still as shocking as the moment I tried to understand the words in front of me as I scanned a newspaper article that had respectfully been brought to me to inform me of the tragedy.

Luisa asked for a letter to acknowledge that she had volunteered at the Duke Lemur Center. This is my letter to her friends and family to acknowledge that Luisa did more then volunteer at DLC. She made us smile. She worked hard. She spread her enthusiasm and passion for the animals. She will be greatly missed.

Meg Dye
Volunteer Coordinator

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Remembering Luisa

"I miss her."

Ask anyone at Duke Lemur Center about Luisa Sartori, and that is the answer you are likely to receive. We knew Luisa was leaving. The plan was that she would return to her native Brazil. We knew we wouldn't see her several times a week as we had this past semester. She was a Duke student and a Technician's Assistant at the Lemur Center.

We knew we wouldn't see her regularly, but we thought we would be able to see her, if we took her up on that often extended invitation to come visit her and see her beloved Brazil.

One moment in time, one fender bender from which everyone else walked away, changed all that. Luisa, sitting in the back seat, wearing her seat belt (no alcohol or drugs involved on anyone's part,) lost her life in that moment.

Duke Lemur Center lost a good friend - a bright, beautiful, bubbly, young woman, who was passionate about lemurs, about the Lemur Center, about conservation, and about Brazil.

We miss her.

We invite you to join us in remembering Luisa Sartori.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Duke Lemur Center & Malagasy Vets Collaborate

After the usual months of preparation, 2 veterinarians have arrived from Madagascar and started training here at the Duke Lemur Center. Dr. Haja Rakotondrainibe and Dr. Hery Rakotoarivelo arrived in Durham on Oct. 3 and will be in the US, mostly with us here at DLC, for 2 months. The young veterinarians have a particular interest in wildlife medicine, which is why we have brought them here to learn more about taking care of lemurs. They have been observing and working with DLC veterinarians Dr. Cathy Williams and Dr. Bobby Schopler. In addition to working with Cathy and Bobby, Haja and Hery participated in a 2 week training program for international vets at NC State Veterinary School in Raleigh. There they gained experience with a wider array of animals, including tortoises, which will be useful for their work in Madagascar. At present Haja and Hery are in St. Louis where they are working at the zoo with Dr. Randy Junge and his team. After 10 days they will return to DLC for a final week and a half of intensive work before heading back to Madagascar.
Of course we don’t want Haja and Hery’s visit to the US to be all about work. In their off time they are getting to experience a few of our special offerings and pass-times such as NC Bar-B-Que, and American football. And of course Halloween! After one Halloween costume party, and helping answer the door on Halloween night, they have learned more than a bit about the less serious side of American life!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Want to know more about lemurs and Madagascar?

Duke Lemur Center is unique. This facility not only houses the largest collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar, it offers unparalleled opportunities for research, and it serves as an interactive classroom and a resource for Duke University.

Our unique Center studies animals which are even more unique and come from one of the most singular places in the world. Our director, Dr. Anne Yoder is featured in the linked video. She discusses the history and importance of Madagascar, lemurs, and the work done at Duke Lemur Center.

Lemurs here and in Madagascar may live oceans apart, but they are tied by a common heritage, shared science, and common goals for conservation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Duke School Students help Duke Lemur Center

The following are articles written by Duke School 5th grade students about their visit to Duke Lemur Center

Duke Lemur Center: A service learning project
An Introduction to the Lemur Center
By Charlotte Buck

On Monday September 28 the fifth grade went to the Duke Lemur Center. While we were walking over we spent time estimating the amount of trash we would pick up. Some people guessed fifty pieces and others guessed five but everyone was so excited! Our
new Duke School teacher, Laura, has wanted to go but never had a chance.

We had a wonderful introduction by Charlie Welch about Madagascar and the lemurs that live there. We also talked about the main goals of the lemur center which are: Research, Conservation, and Education. They are also home to 215 animals, 204 of which are lemurs.

After the slide show I had an opportunity to talk to Emma Thorp who believed that they are trying very hard and succeeding.

Facts about Lemurs
By Taylor Marshall

Grade 5 was on their way to the Duke Lemur Center as I asked a question to some
of the students. “How many pieces of trash do you think you’ll pick up?” I asked.
“5 or 6”, Casey said.
“I think 7”, Cammie added.
“15”, said Sarah.
We picked up six bags of trash in

Once we got to the Lemur Center we found out that out of the 22 species of lemurs at the Lemur Shelter. The aye-aye is the most popular lemur. There are 204 lemurs at the center. There was a lot of amazing facts although there were a few facts that stood out more then others. Some of the ones that I thought stood out were:
• The lemurs in Madagascar most likly rafted from Africa to get there.
• There are 70 different species of lemurs in Madagascar.

Stay tuned for the next report of the
Duke Lemur Center.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Live in the Durham, NC Area? Want to help Lemurs?

VolunteerFest 09
October 28, 2009

Please come join us at our first VolunteerFest! This is an opportunity for you to meet other Technician Assistants (TAs) and learn more about the Duke Lemur Center. In addition, we will have an All TA Meeting to discuss and plan the future of the program.

This is a unique experience only being offered to our TAs and those who are interested in learning more about our program. Please help spread the word and extend the invitation to friends and other students who may be interested in becoming involved with DLC.

We look forward to seeing you! Please rsvp to by 10/26/09

VolunteerFest 09

3:00 Facility Tour, Keith Morris, Education Manager

3:45 Opening, Dr. Anne Yoder, Director

4:30 Break

4:45 Madagascar Conservation, Charlie Welch, Conservation Coordinator

5:10 DLC Breeding Program, Andrea Katz, Colony Manager

5:25 Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Cathy Williams, Senior Veterinarian

5:45 Lemur Research, Dr. Sarah Zehr, Research Coordinator

6:15 Break (Pizza and drinks provided)

6:45 Technician Assistant Meeting, Meg Dye, Behavioral Management Coordinator

Monday, October 5, 2009

Duke Lemur Center draws researchers from across the nation and around the world

What’s with all the Canadians? Duke Lemur Center seems to have been inundated by researchers from the Great White North this summer. And it can’t just be the weather, as I hear tell it’s quite pleasant there this time of year. Let’s see if I can even name them all: Dr. Kathleen Muldoon, a Canadian researcher based at Dartmouth University, was here studying energy expenditure in our free-ranging ring-tailed lemurs. Dr. Tracy Kivell, a Canadian who has been a postdoctoral researcher here in Duke’s Evolutionary Anthropology department, has been intensively collecting data on aye-aye locomotion all summer before she heads off to a new research position at the Max Plank Institute in Germany. Drs. Sergio and Vivian Pellis came down from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada (though I should mention that they are Canadians from Australia) to study rough and tumble play in our infants. One of our long-term Canadian researchers, Dr. Marylene Boulet, has been a post doc at Duke studying olfactory communication in ring-tailed lemurs, but she returned to Canada late in the summer to take a research position there. Even the Canadian Discovery Channel was here to film some aye-aye locomotion research for a segment on the show “The Daily Planet”.

And Canada isn’t the only far-off land from which our researchers hail. Masters student Lucy Todd from Roehampton University in London (though she is actually Scottish) is also here recording Sifaka vocalizations, and Dr. Lap Ki Chan made the trip from Hong Kong to study how lorises reach from one substrate to another as they travel.

While we are very proud of our international appeal, let’s not forget our visiting researchers from the good old US of A! Dr. Jandy Hanna from West Virginia School of Medicine has spent much of the summer here studying lemur locomotion, Tess McLoud, a student at Dartmouth, came down to observe ring-tailed lemur infant-male interactions, and Peter Flynn, a high school student from New York who is part of the Intel Mentorship Program, spent all of July collecting data on ring-tailed lemur foraging. Gini Dawkins from Hunter College in New York recently paid a visit to document play behavior in sifakas and red-ruffed lemurs, and Dr. Matt O’Neill, from SUNY Stonybrook, made two trips to the DLC this summer, collaborating with both Dr. Hanna and Dr. Muldoon.

Dr. Roshna Wunderlich, a frequent year-round visitor from James Madison University, made several appearances over the summer to continue her study of sifaka locomotion, Dr. Chris Mercer from Northwestern University will make his third annual visit to do alarm call playback experiments later this month, and Dr. David Hollar, from UNC, will be making the long journey from Chapel Hill to observe and document how ring-tailed lemur groups interact and how they use their environments.

Summertime for some means more downtime, and this is particularly true for students and academics, who tend to have reduced class and teaching responsibilities. Many researchers take this opportunity to travel to the field or to other institutions (such as the DLC) to gather data not accessible to them at home. Which is all well and good but leaves me now, at the end of the summer, in desperate need of a vacation. Perhaps I’ll go to Canada.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Duke Lemur Center helps lemurs in Madagascar as well as those here in NC

The on-going political crisis in Madagascar is impacting more than just the human element in that unique island country. The forests and animals there are suffering as well (see a letter published in Nature by DLC researcher Meredith Barret et al). Instability and chaos that are by-products of political turbulence in Madagascar, as anywhere, will always provide opportunities for those who seek to take advantage of the situation. In this particular case, precious hardwoods are being illegally cut and stolen from some of Madagascar’s protected areas, to be sold for enormous profits.

The removal of the trees is in itself a regrettable loss, but such activities are often accompanied by killing or capturing of animals for food or trade. To make matters worse, attitudes of trespass into protected areas can be difficult to change once started, leading to a domino effect of environmental damage which is tough to slow down. In the end the entire ecosystem suffers.

Duke Lemur Center supporters wanted to help. Their dollars are making a difference. The Reserve of Betampona, a project site of the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) of which the Lemur Center is a Managing Member, was having problems with increased levels of illegal cutting and other illicit activities in the reserve. The Lemur Center worked with its donors to direct support to the urgent need of increased protection efforts at Betampona.

But what exactly does it mean to “increase protection”? The first and most obvious step is to increase patrols in the reserve by MFG Conservation Agents. Although they have no true authority to do more than report infractions, the mere presence of personnel in the reserve is a strong deterrent. Infractions are down, although not yet completely eliminated. Still, habitat and animals in Betampona are safer because donors and the DLC are working directly with the people in Madagascar.

The most important path to protecting Betampona is to convince the local people that it is in their interest to maintain the forest in its natural state. Without local support, there is no long-term solution. People are the key. To this end, part of the funds donated to Duke Lemur Center were used to help our partner, the MFG increase funding for reforestation activities, working in collaboration with villagers in the area surrounding the reserve. This collaboration means that there is more contact and interaction with local people, which builds trust and relationships.

There are now three tree nurseries around Betampona which are tended by villagers. They receive MFG funding for tending to the nurseries and then planting out the trees in a ‘buffer zone’ around the reserve. Education is another way to reach out to local people. The MFG-sponsored Saturday Class program at nearby Ambodiriana village offers educational advantages to local students. The program stresses environmental education as well as reinforcing core subjects. Discussions are underway to expand the Saturday Class program around the reserve.

The generosity of Duke Lemur Center donors is having a great impact on some of the most endangered forests on the planet. You can help, too.

Make a gift on-line at or send a check to Duke Lemur Center/3705 Erwin Rd. /Durham, NC 27705/

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Duke Lemur Center volunteers share their love for lemurs with the public

Giving tours comes naturally to George Kolasa. For 24 years he worked in the Duke University Accounting Department, and every time he had new employees join his staff, he would give them a tour of Duke. George enjoyed sharing Duke’s history and interesting tidbits of information about the institution. He would always end with the Lemur Center. He said, “Duke is so big. I didn’t want people to miss this unique opportunity.”

Now George is semi-retired – and as busy as ever. He approaches his volunteer efforts with the same eye for detail and willingness to share that he did during his days in Duke Accounting. Once George started serving as a docent at the Lemur Center, he put together a massive binder of facts and anecdotes about Madagascar and about lemurs and other prosimian primates. He likes to be able to target his audience and adapt his presentation to the group in front of him. George says, “The kids want to see the lemurs. Adults want more detail. I like to be able to pick and choose what will interest the group I’m with.” Judging from the faces of the groups George leads, he does that very well!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lemurs, finger paints, and lots of mess!

By Lori Mears, Primate Technician

As primate technicians here at the Duke Lemur Center, we find ourselves charged with the mission of ensuring not only the physical health but also all other aspects of the well-being of the lemurs under our care. This is where we get to be truly creative, in the lemur world, it is called enrichment. Enrichment can be a great many things. It can be hammocks and ice treats (as Niki blogged about earlier). It can be new things to smell or taste or touch. Primate technicians have many, many options to provide enrichment opportunities for the lemurs. We simply have to be a bit creative, and use the knowledge we have about our animals to find ways to make their lives more interesting.

So, you ask “where is all this going”? Lemur art!

The process of painting with a lemur is a lot like painting with a small child. Really messy (for the lemurs and the technicians), but the product is amazing. First you need non-toxic finger paints, a big sheet (to contain the mess a bit), a canvas, a bag of lemur treats, and a willing participant. Then, the fun begins. After fifteen minutes of walking, sniffing, and scratching, we have lemur art! Painting allows us to give the lemurs a unique experience. The feeling of paint between the toes, the smells, the colors, the springiness of a canvas, all these things provide mental stimulation(and fun!) to the lemurs, keeping their minds working and ours as well. My favorite experience is painting with aye-ayes in the dark. The colors all look like shades of black in the dark and you have no idea what it will look like until after you leave. It’s always a great surprise.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, we actually have some of their art for sale in the gift shop, and you can have the opportunity to own your very own piece of lemur history. After all, how many people can say that painting on their wall was made by a lemur?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Duke Lemur Center and the Madagascar Fauna Group

by Charlie Welch, Duke Lemur Center Conservation Manager

Andrea and I are just back from the annual MFG board meeting which was hosted this year by the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. The meeting consists of progress reports from the on the ground conservation work at Ivoloina and Betampona, as well as budget and activity planning for the year to come. The good news is that in addition to great progress with all aspects of the projects, the MFG is on as firm a financial ground as it has ever been. Relatively new in-country Project Manager An Bollen is doing a terrific job of taking the projects forward (despite the current political crisis), and former Project Manager Karen Freeman has brought an exciting new facet to the MFG as Research Coordinator. Karen takes on that work from her home in Scotland.

To explain a bit about the MFG – it is a consortium of zoological parks and botanical gardens in the North America and Europe that are committed to conservation in Madagascar. By pooling resources the group can maximize conservation impact and assure long term continuity for the projects. The consortium was initially formed in 1989, and the Duke Lemur Center is a founding and managing member. There are currently 27 member institutions of the MFG, at different membership levels. More information and current newsletters are available at

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hot! Hot! Hot! How do the Lemurs Stay Cool in Duke Forest?

Imagine wearing a full length fur coat on a broiling summer day. Now imagine running through the forest, climbing trees and jumping great distances between trees while wearing said coat. That’s sort of what our forest dwelling lemurs do each and every summer day; but for relatively young, healthy lemurs heat is not a problem, as many parts of Madagascar experience temperatures greater or equal to North Carolina's and lemurs have evolved to deal with it.

If you have never visited the Lemur Center, you might be surprised to learn that none of our diurnal lemurs have access to air-conditioning in their cages. In order to cope with heat without AC, lemurs have strategies that allow them to keep cool. Lemurs housed in traditional cages around the building receive a lot of help in this regard from the Technicians who care for them, and you can read more about how these guys stay cool by viewing Nichol’s blog from June 29th.

But free ranging lemurs living in our forested enclosures are pretty much on their own in the quest to avoid the heat. So, how exactly do they do it?

Like dogs, lemurs are incapable of sweating, but unlike their canine counterparts, they cannot dissipate excess heat through a long panting tongue. So there are actually only a few simple strategies that a forest living lemur can utilize on a brutally hot day to stay cool: keep quiet and minimize activity, find a cool place to sit, lie down, or sprawl and, finally, to lick their hands.

Hand licking? Unlike humans or horses who can sweat profusely to cool down, the only way lemurs can obtain some measure of relief by way of evaporative cooling is to lick their fingers and both sides of their hands (one of the few areas of their bodies not fully furred) over and over again. Although not as effective as cranking the AC, this primitive air conditioning seems to work for the free ranging lemurs.

In the middle of a baking hot, dry forest on a 95 degree day, the options for finding a really cool spot are somewhat limited, but shady spots are available in abundance. Plus, the ground temperature will always be cooler than the ambient temperature this time of year, so it is a common sight to see a lemur laying flat out on its stomach or back, arms and legs splayed off to the side with body pressed as close as possible to the cooler ground.

Amazingly enough, large and even medium sized trees seem to offer some heat relief to our forest dwellers. According to DLC Veterinarian, Cathy Williams, the transpiration and evaporation of water which is always ongoing inside a tree keeps it a bit cooler than the outside air. Hence for lemurs in general, and sifaka especially, the hotter the day, the greater your chances of seeing these arboreal vertical clingers and leapers hugging a tree.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lemur babies

by Tech Laura

Why have baby lemurs? Because they’re CUTE! But, seriously, why breed all these lemur babies? There’s only so much space in the center so why breed more? What other purpose (besides joy) could baby lemurs have in this world?

All lemur species are endangered. In Madagascar, some species stand closer to the brink of extinction than others; but every kind of lemur is threatened in some way. Madagascar is already about 80 percent deforested and is losing trees as we speak. Losing habitats means losing lemurs.

So, the Duke Lemur Center breeds endangered lemurs to provide a genetic safety net for the lemurs of Madagascar. But where will we put them all? Well, the DLC works with other facilities in the zoo community to not only exchange adults of breeding age to keep the genetic variation of lemur families strong, but to house and care for the families we create. Each year a list of recommended breeding pairs, which take into account the genetic importance of the parents as well as space that is available to house the offspring, is generated by the Population Managers for each lemur species. This way we can be sure that only the most important lemurs breed, and that they will always be plenty of space to house them and their offspring.

In addition, future reintroduction of lemurs to the wild is a dream we all share. The Betampona project, where black and white ruffed lemurs born and raised at the Lemur Center (and other institutions) were "returned" to Madagascar for reintroduction during the years 1997-2000, is the only time this has been accomplished. In the meantime, the DLC is working on the ground in Madagascar to help create parks like Ivoloina for lemurs and people. The DLC works with the Madagascar Fauna Group to assist the people of Madagascar as they learn about their own resources and how to get the most out of what they have now while still saving resources for their children. (Go to our web page and read more about MFG and Ivoloina and conservation.)

Conservation is a major goal of the Duke Lemur Center. So are research and education. Right now our researchers are asking important questions like what is the advantage to standing upright and what does it cost to walk that way? How are decisions made? How is risk assessed? Does chemistry really play a big role in who is attracted to whom? Could scent convey genetic fitness? (Those good scents would make even better sense!). Studying lemurs might give us these answers and more.

So, yes, lemurs are beautiful, adorable, and cute. They are also biological treasures that the Duke Lemur Center is working hard to study and to protect.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Duke Lemur Center at NC Museum of Natural Science

Tropics Day at the NC Museum of Natural Science

By Charlie Welch

On Saturday, July 18 the Duke Lemur Center participated in the first “Tropics Day” celebration at the NC Museum of Natural Science. Exhibits included live animals and sustainable tropical crops such as chocolate (cacao). The theme of the DLC exhibit was of course Madagascar, and focused on the urgency of conservation efforts in that unique tropical island country. The DLC exhibit was visited by a steady crowd throughout the day, and the total attendance for Tropics Day was over 6,000 visitors to the museum! It was a great opportunity to raise awareness about lemurs, Madagascar, and the Duke Lemur Center.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Duke Lemur Center Director , Dr. Anne Yoder Speaks at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences

N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
Downtown Raleigh
is pleased to announce The Charles Darwin Lecture Series in honor of the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth year.

Third Lecture in the Series
Thursday, July 9th, 6:30 p.m.
Anne Yoder: Madagascar's Magnificent Biodiversity: What Would Darwin Say?

Yoder is director of the Duke Lemur Center. Her research focuses on phylogeny and evolution of mammals, conservation genetics, and the historical biogeography and biodiversity of Madagascar, one of the most critical geographic priorities for conservation action worldwide. In addition to her role at the Lemur Center, Yoder is a professor of biology, biological anthropology and anatomy at Duke University. She is also associate editor for Evolution magazine and on the editorial board for the International Journal of Primatology and Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution.

Please RSVP to or call 919-733-7450 ext. 307.
This lecture is free of charge and seating is on a first come, first served basis. Doors to the Museum and auditorium will open at 6:00 p.m.

The Museum, in collaboration with the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) and the W.M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology at North Carolina State University, is presenting The Charles Darwin Lecture Series throughout 2009 to commemorate the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species." Upcoming lectures will feature Museum paleontologists Dr. Dale Russell on September 29th and Paul Brinkman on November 24th.

The Museum is located at the corner of Jones and Salisbury Streets in downtown Raleigh.
For more information, call 919.733.7450, toll free 1.877.4NATSCI, or visit

Post by--
Anne S. Lacey
Biology Graduate Program

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lazy Summer Days at Duke Lemur Center

by Nichol Barnett, Primate Technician
Here at the Lemur Center during the hot summer months the employees aren’t the only ones reaching for their Gatorade and taking a quick break in a shady spot! During a tour one may notice the lemurs are not quite as active as they are in the cooler months. With the hot temperatures comes less lemur activity. Being a technician (and a lemur) here at the DLC in the summer months can be a challenge. We are constantly watching over our furry friends to ensure that they are as comfortable as possible during the hot summer days. We provide them with shady areas, fans, and ice bottles to cool themselves down. While these months can be challenging, they can also lead to creativity and fun. We technicians are constantly coming up with new flavors and types of “lemur pops” and designing hammocks for lounging. We are glad to see that our efforts do not go unnoticed and seem greatly appreciated by our charges! If you get a chance to come by for a tour this summer look up to see if you can spot some lemurs lounging in their hammocks enjoying their icy treats!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Raising Dan Akroyd - at Duke Lemur Center

by Tech Laura
I returned from Rome to find that I would be taking care of Dan Akroyd. At least until he was well enough to go live with his father, who had moved next door to keep him company.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. It all starts with Akroyd’s mother, Jody Foster. Last October, she got together with Akroyd’s father, Lawrence Olivier, and was lucky enough to conceive. Since she is a teenage mother, there is still hope that she and Olivier can have a large family. You see, blue eyed black lemurs are endangered and, being a delicate subspecies of lemur, appear to have some difficulties conceiving, and once they do, having the infants survive. Oh, have I confused you?

Let me clarify. Foster is a Eulemur macaco flavifrons, also known as a Blue-eyed black lemur, a subspecies of the common black lemur. Blue-eyed black lemurs have a striking appearance and are often domineering and high strung. These qualities, or maybe it’s just their eye color, are why the Lemur Center names them after starlets and movie stars. About the only thing our fiery red head Foster has in common with Jody Foster is that she is quite beautiful and has sparkling sky blue eyes. So, where does the “black lemur” part come in? Well, the males are all black, the females all reddish brown, and all of them have stunning blue or green eyes.

Now, back to raising Dan Akroyd. He is only half the blues brothers. Have I confused you again? Let me explain, Akroyd is a twin. You see, not only were Foster and Olivier a good match, they conceived twins! Yes, twin boys. This is a first for the Lemur Center. And for two months Foster was an extremely protective mother. She chased off Olivier, who had to find other living arrangements. She chased off me, even though I brought the food! All was going well, and at one month of age, the boys were christened Akroyd and Belushi – the blues brothers. Little Akroyd had (yes had, I’ll get to that…) beautiful green eyes and his brother little Belushi has (yes still has…) beautiful blue eyes.

Here’s where Rome comes in. I had a great vacation! Yes, techs get vacations too- the Coliseum, lemonchello…. but, when I came home, I found little Akroyd had been rejected by his mother. He had also received a very un-motherly bite wound to the side of his head. As a result, Akroyd had one green eye, and one black eye – sort of like his namesake (How foretelling that he would be named after an actor with one green eye and one brown). It didn’t seem to phase Akroyd. He soon adapted to living next to Olivier and eating non-stop room service. It takes only one needful glance from this little fella to fall head over heals in love. Why he was rejected at two months old is a mystery, a mystery that repeated itself only one week later.

And so it was that I came to be raising Dan Akroyd and one week later, Belushi as well. Again, Foster rejected her then only remaining son by biting him on the head. Why, I don’t know. Maybe two growing infants were too much for her. Belushi, and his head wound, moved in with Akroyd, and Olivier moved out. Akroyd was aloof at first, but Belushi continuously made endearing envoys of brotherly affection and the two soon bonded- again.

It seems wrong to profit from tragedy, but I can’t deny that I have. Now my days are filled with charm and sparkle as the boys grow. Each morning they greet me with sounds normally reserved for family. Sounds much like little motor cycles, whoomf, whoomf, whoomf, as they jump off their teddy bear looking to be fed and groomed. I mash their food, cook their vegetables, and mix their powdered milk twice a day. Each time, they climb onto the plate, all four feet, and gobble as fast as they can. They look up at me with over stuffed mouths and beautiful eyes full of trust. While they eat, I groom each one with a little tooth brush, first the back, then the sweet spot under each ear and finally the long wisp of a tail. There’s no hugging and holding allowed. The brothers must grow up knowing they are lemurs with proper behaviors so they can be ready to get along with future lemur girlfriends. I can tell you for certain that their charisma makes this very hard indeed.

Already time is marching on. They are growing fast and soon will move outside and grow ever more independent. Their father Olivier moved back in with Foster to try again this fall. Hopefully, they will have another infant next spring. I am hoping for a girl- just one. And I will be an outside observer again. But, I will always have my memories of raising Dan Akroyd and his brother Belushi - the blues brothers. And they will always be a special pair of lemurs no matter where they go from here. Whoomf, whoomf….

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lemurs - Preparing for breeding

If Tolkien looks hopeful (and remarkably appealing,) it's because he and Medusa are preparing to be prospective mates at the Philadelphia Zoo. For endangered species, such as aye-aye, keeping the gene pool vital is critical. So the Duke Lemur Center collaborates with other approved institutions around the world to carefully and purposefully breed these precious biological treasures. The breeding programs for each species are managed by a Species Survival Plan (SSP), coordinated through the American Zoological Association, which assures that genetic lines are kept viable (And you thought getting your dates past your parents was rough!)

Before Medusa and Tolkien can travel to their "romantic" rendezvous, they are receiving complete physicals by our Veterinary Department. When they reach Philadelphia, they will be in quarantine for a month (typical for all zoo to zoo shipments) to assure that no undetected diseases slip from one institution to the next.

The Species Survival Plans work both ways for the Lemur Center. June Bug, a Pygmy slow loris, just came to the Lemur Center to breed. June Bug is huge! As Lemur Veterinarian, Bobby Schoppler said, "It's like we got two for the price of one!" June Bug weighs considerably more than the average Pygmy slow loris, so Duke Lemur Center will work with her to get that weight down a bit - for her health's sake.

Then sometime in the next year or two, we should be reporting about brand new aye-aye and Pygmy slow loris infants. Good things - worth waiting for!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Duke Lemur Center - changing lives

Kizzy is a Black & white ruffed lemur and a stellar mom. She gave birth to triplets recently, but life is hard and one infant was still born. One was fit and healthy. One was clearly a runt. In the wild, the runt would have been doomed - not because Kizzy didn't mother properly. She worked hard to care for her infants. She held and groomed both babies and encouraged them to nurse. The runt would have been doomed because it was so weak. Kizzy would groom the tiny infant and try to guide it (as much as a lemur mothers can) towards her nipple to suckle. But the infant seemed to be too small and weak to locate the nipple and latch on to nurse, and it would tumble to the floor of Kizzy's nestbox looking pitiful and lost.

That is where the staff at the Duke Lemur Center stepped in - changing the course of the little runt's life. Two of the world's premier lemur veterinarians, Drs. Cathy Williams and Bobby Schoppler, both work at the Lemur Center. They laid out a course of care for the tiny black & white ruffed lemur. Primate technicians supplemented Kizzy's attempts to feed the infant. The technicians fed the baby around the clock (every two to three hours), returning the infant to Kizzy's care after every feeding, and helped the vets monitor progress. Hour after hour, day after day, Kizzy and a team of humans worked to change the outcome for a little lemur - and it worked!

The runt gradually began to hold its own, then to gain both weight and strength. The DLC staff could cut back on supplemental feeding, and Kizzy could continue what came naturally to her - to care for her babies. The folks at Duke Lemur Center changed the course of history for one little lemur.

It works the other way around also. These endangered species, who are incredible biological treasures,and who also happen to be irresistably engaging change the lives of many who encounter them. That is what happened for Dr. Anne Yoder, Director of the Duke Lemur Center. Here is Dr. Yoder's story.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In Memory of Didi - who helped us understand Madagascar

by Charlie Welch, Duke Lemur Center's Conservation Coordinator

Recently, I received some very bad news from Madagascar. My friend and colleague Didi RAKOTONDRATSIMA passed away. At 34 years of age, and seemingly excellent health, Didi had his whole life before him. All of us who knew Didi are shocked and saddened beyond words.

Didi worked for Cortez Expeditions, based in Antananarivo. He accompanied tour groups acting as guide and all-around logistics technician. He was Cortez’s best, and most requested guide. His understanding of Malagasy history and culture was comprehensive, as was his knowledge of Madagascar’s natural history. He was expert at imparting information in a humble fashion, and would still become excited at sighting a bird or lemur species that he must have seen a hundred times before. Most notably, Didi was simply charming – I never knew a tour group member that did not absolutely love Didi by the end of their time with him.

I have worked other tours with Didi, but Andrea and I both first worked with him on the Duke Alumni Travel tour in 2007. At the end of the tour, we were so impressed with his all around abilities that we presented Didi with the challenge of leading an ecotourism workshop at Ivoloina. He of course jumped at the opportunity because he cared so much about tourism done properly, and about Madagascar. He even offered to do it on his own vacation time – that is the kind of guy Didi was (Cortez saw to it that he was on work time!). When the idea was presented to our tour participants, they were so enthusiastic about Didi that they all chipped in and completely funded the workshop. The workshop, led by Didi, took place at Ivoloina in 2008 and was a great success. MFG Program Manager at the time, Karen Freeman had this to say about Didi at the workshop “As you say, always so charming and he really cared about Madagascar and its people. I was so impressed with his training session on how to cherish the Malagasy culture and share little bits of it as a gift to the tourists. He really was one of the best ambassadors for Madagascar that I ever came across.”

So, to you Didi, on behalf of all the people who now have a better understanding of Madagascar and its people, thank you for sharing yourself. You have touched our lives immeasurably, and we will never forget you. You were the best possible ambassador.

Our deepest most heart felt condolences to Didi’s family.

Didi collapsed and died on 17 May, 2009 while snorkeling with a tourist group near Nosy Be, off the NW coast of Madagascar.

If you would like to honor Didi's memory, you can make a gift to Duke Lemur Center by going to the Lemur Center website.. When making your on-line gift, be sure to designate the gift for the Duke Lemur Center in memory of Didi. This site will also explain how and where to send a check, if you prefer.

To honor Didi's life and extraordinary excellence as an Eco-tour guide, the funds will be used to continue to develop eco-tourism in Madagascar.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pyxis – An Insider’s View
By David Haring
Our absolutely amazing 14 year old red ruffed female, Pyxis, gave birth to triplets on April 29th, bringing to ten the number of infants she has delivered at the Lemur Center (8 surviving). Four lucky people who happened to be here late one evening were given the extraordinary privilege of witnessing all three births (which occurred at 5:35pm, 6pm and 6:10 pm ) from only a few feet away, due to Pyxis extremely calm demeanor. I had previously seen only two lemur births in my 25 years here, but none at such close range, so this was an awesome privilege! Pyxis had no problem delivering the infants, cleaning them up and handily disposing of any afterbirth. She is an excellent mother, and there have been no problems, the infants (two females and a male) are thriving and all had doubled their birth weight at two weeks of age.

Pyxis is one of the Lemur Center’s unsung lemur heroes. She was born 1995 in a natural habitat enclosure (NHE6) to a pair of wild caught ruffs, Galaxy and Comet. Despite the fact that she was born with several deformities (short tail, imperfect eye, a right arm that was little more than a stump), Pyxis thrived in the forest and lived there in the warm seasons until she was sent on loan to Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago in the Fall of 1998 (shortly before Pyxis was shipped, her group had to be removed from the forest due to the fact that Galaxy kept escaping). I remember watching a young, two year old Pyxis travel through the forest struggling to keep up with her group as they effortlessly moved through the top of the canopy (50 or 60 feet in the air). Pyxis could jump between some of the trees the group was traveling between, but when the distance was too great to be bridged by the basically one armed lemur, she had to descend to the base of the tree, then run along the ground and climb up into the tree which the rest of her group had entered. Then do it all over again in a minute or two. The sequence might be repeated five or six times as the group traveled from one end of the enclosure to the next. A current Lemur Center locomotion project hypothesizes that “lemurs are significantly slower climbers than runners” I am not a researcher, nor do I hold a PhD, but I will go out on a limb here and predict that jumping between trees takes significantly less energy than the locomotion style that Pyxis had to adopt to move through the forest. Needless to say, this extra effort made Pyxis an extremely strong animal!

Breeding between Pyxis and her SSP arranged mate did not occur during her tenure in Chicago, and since she was one of the few offspring of a wild caught pair, and extremely valuable to the ruffed lemur breeding program, she was returned to the Center and paired with a new male, Hunter, in November, 2000. The pair was released to free range (again NHE6) in April 2001, and Pyxis sprang into the forest like she had never left, leaving Hunter (who had never been outside a traditional cage) cowering under a shelf in the barn. Pyxis only returned to him occasionally throughout the day to check on him. Finally after a week or so Hunter found the courage to venture out into the forest, and the pair settled in fine. In fact Pyxis gave birth to her first litter in May, 2001 in a nest she had constructed on the forest floor. Tragically, the infants did not survive the first night, and when the next year Pyxis again became pregnant, she was kept inside so that her infants would have a better chance of survival. And survive they did, she gave birth to Little Dipper in Spring of 2002, and in 2004 she gave birth to twins, Carina and Cassiopea. Last fall all three of these offspring were paired by the ruffed lemur SSP to make sure that Pyxis’ valuable genes get passed on.

Pyxis and her group returned to free range in July, 2005 (she had not become pregnant that breeding season), and as soon as the group was released to free range, Pyxis made a bee line across the entire length of NHE 6 to visit the nest site where she had given birth to her first infants four years earlier (still marked with flagging tape)! Once she arrived at the nest site, she sniffed the ground intently for five minutes, then lay down to rest until the rest of her group caught up with her. What exactly she was searching for we will never know, but no one here had ever seen anything like it. Later in that month for reasons unknown, Pyxis began to regularly escape from her enclosure and technicians arriving early in the morning would often find her in the parking lot. One morning someone witnessed one of her escapes: she had climbed to the top of a tall pine tree located close to the NHE 6 fenceline. Upon reaching the treetop, she ran full speed along a horizontal branch, launched herself into the air, and, crossing the fence far below, landed with a crash onto a branch 20 feet below where she launched, yet still 40 feet above the ground, somehow holding on with her one very strong hand and feet. After the offending tree was removed, Pyxis settled down and remained inside the enclosure with her group for the summers of 2005, 2006 and part of 2007 when she gave birth to another set of twins. Currently her free range home in NHE 6 is closed for construction, but she and her newly expanded family will most likely return in 2010!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

reflections on weighing lemurs

Tech Laura here. I wouldn't have thought that the simple task of weighing animals would get me thinking so much.....This week I weighed a baby sifaka. I've been working with her mother to trade the infant for a nut, so I can monitor the baby's health and growth. It probably doesn't do much for your self worth as a child to know that your mother will trade you for a nut, but I digress....sifaka are family oriented and other members often carry the infant for awhile or play with them so I guess I just fit in for her mother to do a little baby sitting. I was looking at this wonderful baby. So healthy and growing and I thought how special to hold in my hands the future of an endangered species. All lemurs are from Madagascar and all lemurs are in danger of disappearing forever. This little girl will have kids of her own and help us help them. Wow, how special that little moment was.

The next day I weighed the rest of her family. Her dad is fat. He is also the most cautious about climbing aboard the scale. But, nuts are magic sometimes and he did get on for quite a few nuts (dad's price for compliance was much higher than moms.....hummm). The little infant has a brother 1 year old, and a sister 2 years old, who will soon go off to the Sacramento zoo and meet her dream mate (we hope he is dreamy...). It is the picture of a vibrant young family. How nice.

Well, we also have old animals here, and they need to be weighed too. Now instead of the joy of the future, I dread the inevitable. None of us can live forever and lemurs are no exception. I went out to weigh the 19 year old bamboo lemur in my area. I am always full of trepidation. Will he be OK? He acts like life is still worth living and as I put down the scale for him, I hope his weight will show me that he is living it well. He climbs aboard before I can even turn it on. He does this often, and he wants his treat. Bamboo lemurs have well earned reputations for being feisty. Some people call it "big dog" syndrome because they are the smallest day active lemur. But not this old guy. He knows the drill and he knows I help him.

We are always afraid to anthropomorphize animals (make them like people) but he is a primate and he is a social animal who can read body language. I think he knows the drill. He got tired of waiting on the scale and jumped to my knee. I set the scale and pointed to it and he jumped back on it. WHEEHO, his weight is good. He is still keeping himself up (with a little help from me!). He is supposed to get a raisin for sitting on the scale. He looks at me. OH, I pull the bag out of my pocket and try to open the zip lock on it. I struggle. He jumps back to my knee and holds one side of the zip lock and together we manage to get it open. Funny, you would think he would just take his raisin but he didn't. He jumped back to the scale and looked at me like well, I helped you open it now give me my reward. He gets a few more raisins for that.

So, weighing brings me full circle from the young to the old, from the future of lemurs to the past of lemurs. It was a good week.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Taking care of lemurs

The risk of Swine Flu has brought extra precautions to the Duke Lemur Center. The lemurs do not pose any extra risk to people, and we want to assure that people don't pose any extra risk to the lemurs. So masks and gloves are the order of the day. When caring for an endangered species, it's always better safe than sorry!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Triplets at Duke Lemur Center

Just minutes old in this picture, three new Red-ruffed lemurs take in the sights at the Duke Lemur Center. Lemurs occur naturally only in Madagascar, which is an island off the coast of Africa. This island has been surrounded by deep ocean water for millions of years, making it a fantastic scientific lab for how life adapts to circumstance and change.

The folks at the Duke Lemur Center do three things: study these unique animals that came from Madagascar (and a number of other prosimian primates from Africa and Asia), teach others what they learn about lemurs and how to learn more about these fascinating animals and their habitat, and work with the Malagasy people and other interested groups to protect lemurs and their habitat. Part of this involves serving as a genetic safety net for the lemurs in Madagascar.

So if Pyxis, the Red-ruffed lemur above, looks proud, it's justified. She doesn't know it, but she is part of a well-planned breeding program designed to help secure the lemur's future. Her triplets help. And both mom and infants are doing well.

Monday, April 27, 2009

For Lemurs, Spring means , "The Buffet is Open!"

At the Duke Lemur Center, our Primate Technicians work hard all winter to make life interesting, healthy, and enjoyable for the lemurs. The Techs do a great job! But nothing compares to the space and freedom of the Natural Habitat Enclosures (NHE) where many of the lemurs spend their spring, summer, and early autumn.

Watching the animals readjust to life in the forest is fascinating. The Techs take them out for short periods first and watch all the interactions to be sure disputes over food, rank, or territory are resolved without injury. There was a lot of scent marking among the Ringed-tails - especially along the fence line where two troops met. There was some "trash talk" between troops with members from each troop meeting toe to toe on the fence. But the lure of the leaves soon won out, and both groups ran off to pick their own dinner fresh from the trees.

Rank was clear when dominant females approached lower ranking females or males, who are lower ranking among many lemurs. Those of lower rank backed off of tender branches or yummy browse and turned eating rights over to those more dominant. Fortunately, Duke Forest provides plenty for all.

In the heat of the day, the lemurs slowed their activity, sought out shaded places, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy ice cubes made of diluted fruit juice that were provided by their ever vigilant Techs.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Healthy Infants hold hope for lemurs

Shown above are ring-tailed lemur, Dorieus and her twins, Hibernia and Limerick. Yes, the twins were born on St. Patrick's Day. The twins are thriving. They spend a lot of time now riding jockey-style on mom's back. Erin, their primary Primate Technician, reports that they like to ride mom's back one above the other. If you only see one infant on Dorieus's back, its probably Limerick. He's the male and has been somewhat larger from the very beginning. But don't worry, Hibernia is still there. She just likes to retreat to the safety of riding on mother's stomach at times.

The twins are fitting right in with the rest of the troop. Recently, their older sister was seen grooming them. They are fortunate. Their mother is the high ranking female in their group, and ring-tails are a species where females are dominate. While life is full of challenges - especially for an endangered species - having a high-ranking mom adds a measure of security.

Duke Lemur Center's Breeding Program is being highly successful. Duke takes part in Species Survival Plans in coordination with the American Zoological Association to see that global efforts to preserve endangered species are maximally effective.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tiny lemurs hold clues to big mysteries

Dr. Anne Yoder, director of the Duke Lemur Center, likens Madagascar to a remarkable scientific library. She likens lemurs to irreplicable "volumes" filled with information of incredible value. According to the work of RJ Gifford and colleagues reported by Welkin E. Johnson of Harvard Medical School in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the tiny Gray mouse lemur may hold a thread that could help unravel the mystery of the evolution of the HIV and AIDS viruses.

History is written in the genetic material of this tiny lemur. According to Johnson, viruses are intracellular parasites, which cannot exist without their host. Once a virus becomes extinct, it vanishes without a trace. The one exception is the Retroviridae, and Gifford and colleagues have unearthed a retroviral fossil clearly related to modern AIDS viruses. The information lies in small sequence fragments resembling lentiviral sequences in the archives of Microcebus murinus (gray mouse lemurs.)

Don't worry. Lemurs can't give you AIDS, but within their genetic material they may hold a mirror that can help scientists figure out the events that led to the modern AIDS epidemic. One more reason to protect this small but critically important endangered species.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Duke Lemur Center remembers John Hope Franklin

Just months before his death at age 94, John Hope Franklin visited the Duke Lemur Center. News of his impending visit sent ripples of excitement through the staff. We knew that this was a man who not only read history, studied history, wrote history and taught it, but he had lived history and by the way he lived, he had changed it. John Hope Franklin was this country's premier chronicler of the African American story and a James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University.

For the Duke Lemur Center, our brush with Dr. Franklin was all too brief, but we were moved by his presence. Everyone who met him was impressed by his calm dignity, his warmth, and his genuine humility. Yet, it was easy to see why Henry Louis Gates, Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research referred to Dr. Franklin as "the Prince." At 94, John Hope retained his regal bearing.

Also evident, as John Hope Franklin toured the Lemur Center and fed an aye-aye a raisin, was the delight in learning that along with his intellectual rigor and engaged passion had fueled a long and prestigious career. It was an honor to have him visit. We join the many who remember an honorable man, who made a difference.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Political Challenges in Madagascar - the only place in the world where lemurs occur naturally

Blog entry by Charlie Welch, Conservation Coordinator at the Duke Lemur Center
Charlie and his family lived and worked in Madagascar for many years and care deeply for the people, the land and the lemurs.

It has been almost a month since I wrote the last update of the political situation in Madagascar. Much has changed since that last entry.

The democratically elected president of Madagascar, Marc Ravalomanana resigned on March 17. He handed power to the military which had backed the opposition, and the military quickly passed the power on to opposition leader, Andry Rajoelina. This past Saturday, March 21 in a ceremony at the main stadium in Tana Mr. Rajoelina was formally handed the reins of the country. Mr. Rajoelina has the title of leader of the HAT, which translates as the High Authority of the Transition (government). He can not be given the title president as the Malagasy constitution dictates that any president of Madagascar must be a minimum of 40 years old. Mr. Rajoelina is 34. He will however have the same authority as a president. The “transition” government is to last for 24 months, after which there will be elections.

The international community has roundly condemned the unseating of a democratically elected president by forceful means. The African Union and the South African Development Community have both announced that they do not recognize the new government in Madagascar. The US, EU, and other countries around the world have taken the same stance. To date, I do not know of a single country which has come out in support of the new government in Madagascar. Most donor countries, including the US have suspended non-humanitarian aid. The US government has evacuated all “non-mission” personnel and their families. The Peace Corps has evacuated all volunteers.

The situation is a complex one for the donor community. No one wants to cut off aid to one of the poorest countries in the world, as that punishes those at the lower end of the economic scale. Also, as Madagascar is of enormous importance from a world biodiversity standpoint, conservation organizations do not want to curtail their fight to protect the key natural areas that remain on the island. Both are critically important points with no easy solutions.

What does it all mean? So hard to say at this point. What it does mean for certain is a large loss of foreign investment, which will mean further loss of jobs, which of course translates as difficult times ahead for the Malagasy people. And that on top of an already sagging world economy which has already caused cutbacks for many economic and business ventures in Madagascar, as worldwide. Being an unrecognized government will add enormously to that burden. It is certainly not good news for the environment as more of the new government’s emphasis will need to be on immediate people issues. Also, for the moment it is not yet clear what the new government’s view on conservation and the environment will be. At present illegal removal of precious woods from forests in certain areas of the northeastern part of the country is out of control, with armed gangs threatening locals in some instances. Some of the national parks have had to be closed down in that area of the country for security reasons. Everyone hopes that this is not a preview of things to come.

On a side closer to us, little has changed for the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) and Duke Lemur Center (DLC) in terms of conservation work in Madagascar. MFG Project Manager An Bollen is carrying on with work and trainings at Ivoloina and Betampona. There have been delays on some of the trainings, and some researchers have postponed their work, but otherwise An feels that it is important continue to move forward in as normal a fashion as is possible. We agree.

As always, our thoughts and hopes for the best are with our friends, and colleagues in Madagascar – in fact with the whole of Madagascar. There are difficult times ahead.

Here is a recent article from National Geographic about the situation in Madagascar and how it effects conservation.