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.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Breeding Success at Duke Lemur Center

Pia and Conrad are doing well.

Just over a month ago, Pia and Conrad were fighting to survive. Pia had a uterine infection after giving birth to Conrad, and her milk wasn't coming in. Dedicated Primate Technicians and a skilled veterinary staff worked day and night to care for mom and infant, and it paid off. Now both are thriving.

Every life matters. With endangered species, each life takes on special importance. The animals at the Duke Lemur Center represent a genetic safety net for lemurs in the wild in Madagascar - the only place in the world where lemurs occur naturally. So every infant feels like a success.

Blue-eyed black lemurs - the females are auburn in color, the males are black.

This spring has been a good one for the breeding program at Duke Lemur Center. Just after Conrad was born, Drusilla, another Coquerel's sifaka, gave birth to Pompeia. This time mom and infant both did well from the beginning, and they are continuing to thrive. In fact, if you call 919.489.3364 x 0 for a tour, you can see mom and infant playing happily.

The Coquerel's sifaka are not the only lemurs having breeding success at Duke Lemur Center. This past week-end Foster, a Blue-eyed black lemur gave birth to twins. It's early days for the twins, and life for every species is fragile - particularly perinatally, but today mom and twins are doing well.

Ring-tailed lemur with infant
The Ring-tailed lemurs also had infants this spring. We have already had a set of twins and an additional single infant. All are doing well. There is a lot to celebrate at Duke Lemur Center this spring. Come see for yourself. If you can't come by, adopt a lemur. There are lots of ways to help save these precious animals.

Monday, March 16, 2009

All ages want to help the lemurs

Britt Keith, a Duke Lemur Center Primate Technician says, "You come out to the Lemur Center and you hand a meal worm to an aye-aye or you look a Pygmy slow loris in the face, and you go home and say, 'Wow! It's so important. We can't let them disappear." You can't get that anywhere else!" Call 919.489.3364 x 0 to schedule a tour, or visit lemur.duke.edu to support the work done at the Duke Lemur Center.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Duke Lemur Center salutes Dr. Fidisoa Rasambainarivo, Madagascar's first wildlife veterinarian

Duke Lemur Center and the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) are thrilled to report that Dr. Fidisoa Rasambainarivo has been accepted into the 2009 Envirovet Summer Institute. Dr. Rasambainarivo (Fidy) is employed by MFG as the staff veterinarian at Parc Ivoloina in Tamatave. Fidy graduated in the first class from the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Antananarivo in 2008 and completed a Conservation Medicine Internship at St. Louis Zoo / University of Missouri / Duke Lemur Center to become Madagascar’s first wildlife veterinarian. In his continued quest for training and experience, Fidy applied to the Envirovet program, which is a competitive international program to train veterinarians in international conservation and health monitoring. The 8 week course includes sessions at White OakPlantation, FL (Ecosystem Heath and Recovery), Fort Pierce. FL (Aquatic Wildlife and Ecosystem Health), and Tanzania (Wildlife Health and Conservation). Fidy’s pursuit of excellence benefits his patients at Parc Ivoloina, his veterinary colleagues inMadagascar where he actively helps train students, and MFG’s ongoing conservation goals. Congratulations Fidy!”