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.