Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We've moved! Come join us.

Duke Lemur Center has an updated website. Check it out.

We have moved our blog to our website. Please look for our updates at our new blog.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A First - Duke Lemur Center participates with the Study Abroad Program at Ivoloina

by Charlie Welch, Duke Lemur Center's Conservation Manager

For the first time, the Duke Lemur Center (DLC) has been part of a Madagascar study abroad opportunity for university undergraduate students. DLC conservation coordinator Charlie Welch accompanied Appalachian State (ASU) agroforestry professor Dr. Christof den Biggelaar, and James Madison (JMU) anthropology professor Dr. Roshna Wunderlich, in leading the study abroad. A total of 11 students from both ASU and JMU participated in the traveling class. Unfortunately, Duke’s credit hour requirements for study abroad classes did not allow for Duke students to participate and receive an equal number of credit hours.
The class covered tropical agroforestry, sustainable agriculture, lemur ecology and research techniques, and conservation, with instruction including lectures, discussion, and field work. Although based at Park Ivoloina, the 4 week learning experience was by no means limited to that location. There were 2 field trips during the period – a 4 day trip to the north to visit the coastal forests at both Analalava and Tampolo (with a relaxing day off at the beautiful beach site of Mahambo!), and a 3 day trip to the higher elevation wet forest at Perinet/Andasibe. Day trips included a visit to a local oil palm plantation which practices sustainable organic farming techniques with the palms and various other fruit products, and a day with two different non-governmental organizations (NGOs) doing humanitarian work in the Tamatave area.
In addition to the ASU and JMU students, the group was joined by 4 English capable Malagasy students from GRENE (environmental program) of the University of Tamatave. Their participation broadened the cross-cultural aspects of the experience for both the American and the Malagasy students.
Hopefully this is the beginning of a regular collaborative study abroad in Madagascar program, which can also in the future include Duke students.
Many thanks to the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) for hosting the study abroad at Ivoloina, and to MFG staff for sharing time and expertise with our students.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Free in the Forest - Duke Lemur Center's Free-range program

by David Haring, Registrar

It was an historic day at the Lemur Center: The release of the first group of lemurs from the new Releasable Building (now officially designated as Ata Ala) into the 6.5 acre NHE 8, one of the four Natural Habitat Enclosures which surround it. Animals released into the forests from Ata Aly will be able to roam freely all summer (and throughout the cooler months, during warm spells). It is fitting that the group chosen for the first release was led by the red-ruffed lemur matriarch Pyxis, who at 15 years of age, is a veteran of many months free ranging at the Lemur Center. Pyxis was born into NHE 6 before it was subdivided into four enclosures, so her habitat in NHE 8 has been home turf since infancy (although she has not free ranged here since 2007). For a detailed summary of Pyxis’ amazing life, please see my blog entry of May, 2009.

Surprisingly, when the gates of the RB were opened and Pyxis’s group (consisting of her mate Hunter; their triplets born in 2009, Esther, Phoebe and Orion Junior; and twins born in 2007, Scorpius and Aries) were released into the forest, it was not the indomitable Matriarch who boldly led the way into the wilderness, but the triplets, still not quite full grown, fairly gangly and really not very well coordinated (at least when it comes to navigation of an unknown and complex forest habitat). Perhaps Pyxis hung back so that she could witness and get a chuckle out of Phoebe and Orion Junior (OJ’s) hilarious first attempts at climbing trees. I have witnessed a fair amount of releases of naïve lemurs into forest environments new to them, but none have come even close to displaying the level of clumsiness shown by both OJ and Phoebe!

They had trouble climbing five foot tall saplings, of a size that could easily be mastered by the clumsiest of human children. They seemed to keep getting tangled up in the mass of branches that have a tendency to grow on healthy saplings (admittedly very unlike the branches of their home cages), and several times fell out of trees that were three or four feet high, disgraceful behavior for an arboreal primate! After a few minutes, the adults (Pyxis, Hunter, Sorpius and Aries), perhaps bored with this display of ineptitude from the younger ones, or perhaps eager to show them how the arboreal lifestyle is accomplished, took to the trees, scaling the highest tulip poplars with relative ease, (although Scorpius and Aries had only a few months experience free ranging in NHE 6 two years ago, it obviously made a big difference!). Surprisingly one of the triplets, Esther, seemed fairly competent in her first ever ascent of a real tree and could actually just about keep up with the group.

Alas, OJ and Phoebe were a different story. When they had finally mastered, to a certain extent, the art of climbing six foot saplings, they proceeded full steam to the next giant step: scaling huge pine trees (the type that have zero branches for the first forty feet). With each attempt the overly ambitious youngsters succeeded only in ascending a few feet up the scaly shear vertical wooden columns, before quickly losing their momentum, then their grips and then plummeting back to the ground in a hail of scraped off pine bark. Finally, they abandoned the pines, and figured out how to climb a reasonably sized hardwood tree (they really do learn fast!), which took them up to a level near the more experiences older animals. Here they were faced with learning another of the basic rules facing every free ranging lemur: not to jump on or walk out onto an obviously dead and rotten branch. Arboreal primates are amazingly adept at being able to quickly brush off falls that would seriously injure a person, but it is little wonder that by the afternoon of the first day free ranging, Orion Junior was cowering inside his cozy air-conditioned RB room, while the rest of the group continued to frolic in the forest.

Amazingly the incompetent yearlings made it through their first free range days in fine shape, and their confidence and ability have increased daily since then. Now the whole group can be seen in the treetops together exploring their enclosure. And, once again, after an absence of two years, the wonderful raucous cry of the ruffed lemur can be heard from the Lemur Center parking lot greeting visitors and letting them know that they have entered the world of the lemur. Everyone on the Lemur Center staff is also delighted to learn that despite the group’s increasing confidence in traveling through the forest, in which they are daily becoming more and more like a wild group of ruffed lemurs, the animals have continued to respond to their audible training cues, coming down from the trees on command, obediently following their technician’s training cues into the RB for conditioning lock up and feeding.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summer in the Forest at Duke Lemur Center

by David Haring, Registrar

It is fitting that the second group released into the forest from Aty Ala (The new releasable building at Duke Lemur Center) contains an exalted Lemur Center veteran, Tiberius, born here in 1988. Since I was Tiberius’s caretaker from the day he was born until the day he shipped to the Los Angeles Zoo for breeding purposes at the age of eight, he holds a special place in my heart. Due to his absence for the last fourteen years, it is somewhat surprising that of the six sifaka in the group (Rupilia the 11 year old matriarch, her daughter Irene 3.5 years old, son Gaius 1.5 years old, and infant Romulus, sired by Tiberius last summer), Tiberius is the only one with free ranging experience. In fact he free ranged in three different DLC enclosures during his first eight years (NHE1, NHE3 and NHE6) and has about 19 months of forest living experience under his belt. He spent over 11 months free ranging in NHE 6 with his first mate, Marcella, and their offspring, Nero, until he was removed for re-pairing with another female, Pulchra, and introduced to NHE 3 in August 1995. He left Marcella and Nero behind in NHE 6, and Marcella was introduced to a new male, Trajan.

Interestingly (and somewhat scandalously), Nero was ejected from his group by Trajan in 1996, and was eventually paired with the young Rupilia. Nero and Rupilia then produced three offspring: Lucius, Gaius and Irene. After Nero’s untimely death in 2008, Tiberius was called back from the Los Angeles Zoo and introduced to Rupilia and her offspring (his grandchildren!). More than willing to fill his son’s shoes, Tiberius and Rupilia bred successfully last summer. Now, it will be interesting to see how the old man copes with his return to the forest. Will he be able to help his naïve group learn the ropes of forest locomotion and free ranging, or will he be content to sit on the ground (as he has become accustomed to doing in his early dotage), simply lounging around? At his age he deserves to lounge, but my guess is that he will rise to the occasion and help lead his group (at least as much as any male sifaka is allowed to lead) as they learn the intricacies of free-ranging.

One final interesting fact is that Tiberius and Pyxis both lived in the same enclosure (NHE6E) from the time of Pyxis’ birth in May 1995, until Tiberius’ removal in August 1995. However, it is doubtful that there was any close interaction between the strapping young male sifaka and the infant red-ruffed lemur, as Pyxis’ mother, Galaxy, would have definitely discouraged any investigation by Tiberius or his group of her infant daughter! Since Tiberius and Pyxis now live in adjacent enclosures (NHE 7 and NHE 8), the closest they will come to a reunion is to look across the fence at each other.

For the remainder of this spring and summer, plans call for the introduction of an additional nine lemur groups into the four NHEs surrounding Aty Ala. Here is a brief rundown of which groups will be released into what enclosures in the weeks to follow: NHE 6 (now 4.2 acres) will house a breeding group of black and white ruffed lemurs and their offspring (Kizzy’s group, currently four animals) and a ring-tailed lemur trio with their two offspring (Schroeder’s group). NHE 7 (6 acres) will house Rupilia’s group, and a trio of mongoose lemurs. NHE 8 (6.6 acres) will house Pyxis’ group, a breeding group of collared lemurs and a pair of red bellied lemurs. Finally NHE 9 (3.5 acres) will be comprised of a family group of Coquerel’s sifaka (Drusilla’s group of five animals), a ring-tailed lemur group (Sprite’s with ten animals) and a breeding pair of blue-eyed lemurs (Foster and her mate). Should be an interesting summer to say the least!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Daring Escape Leads Lemurs to School Library Lured by fruit, two ringtailed lemurs are rounded up at Cresset Christian Academy.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Re-printed from Duke News

DURHAM, N.C. -- When the authorities arrived, the fugitives were lounging in the school library, stuffing themselves on a tropical fruit salad that the lunch lady had thoughtfully provided. A gaggle of admiring school girls stood around, snapping cell phone pictures from every angle and offering treats in their palms.

So ended the 36-hour adventure of Berisades and Ivy, a pair of 6-year-old ringtailed lemurs who daringly vaulted the electric fence of Natural Habitat Enclosure #4 at the Duke Lemur Center (DLC) late Saturday.

The first call came in to Duke Police from a neighbor of the Lemur Center who said she saw lemurs eating her neighbor's garden on Saturday night, but it was chalked up as a possible raccoon sighting. Then the two half-brothers failed to show up for brunch on Sunday morning, and the call went out to all Lemur Center staff to drop what they were doing and join the search.

This same pair had experienced a brief breakout the week before when a storm pushed over a tree, forming a bridge over the electric fence, said Greg Dye, Operations Manager of the Lemur Center. "We're still not sure how they did it this time, but let's just say that where there's a will, there must be a way."

DLC staff fanned out in the neighborhoods south of the center rattling their chow buckets, but the search was called off at about 8 p.m. Sunday as a thunderstorm moved through.

It resumed at 6 a.m. Monday and then quickly shifted farther south as a motorist called in to say she'd seen the pair crossing Cornwallis Road on her way to work. Calls started coming in more frequently, many through Durham animal control. One woman called to say they ran through her back yard as she was standing on the deck.

Based on these reports, Dye thinks they made it almost to Mark Jacobson Toyota at Garrett Road and 15-501 before turning around and heading back north.

At about noon, a pair of teenagers helping run the summer camps at Cresset Christian Academy at 3707 Garrett Road spotted the animals in front of the school and alerted preschool teacher Anna White. "I said, 'You guys are absolutely nuts!'" until she saw the lemurs.

The school is a mile and half from the lemur's enclosure as the crow flies, but based on excited reports phoned in from surrounding neighborhoods, they likely traveled a considerable amount more than that.
Together, White and the teens trailed the animals as they worked their way around to the rear of the school, and then somebody had the idea of getting them inside for safe-keeping with a bit of fruit left over from lunch.

"At one point, one of them was sort of lounging in a chair at the table, and somebody put a book in front of it," White said. "I had one eat out of my hand. I never thought to put that on my life list, but I could cross it off now."

Dye arrived shortly before 1 p.m. with a pair of kennel carriers. When they returned to the Lemur Center, "we did a ‘perp walk' and then they had a quick weigh-in and checkup to make sure they were in good health," Dye said.

"They are so grounded," said Lemur Center Director Anne Yoder. The pair will be restricted to an indoor-outdoor style caged enclosure until DLC officials can figure out how they escaped.

"Both boys are of the age when they would normally leave their family group and go out to set up new territories of their own," Yoder said. "That may have been their motivation for hitting the road, so to speak."

Escapes have happened before at the Lemur Center, not always with such happy endings. But the natural habitat enclosures that the animals enjoy are essential to their well-being and natural behavior, explained Colony Manager Andrea Katz. Some DLC lemurs have been repatriated to their native Madagascar, and it's important they don't lose their natural edge.

"They were able to forage and they stayed together while traveling," Dye said. "They did what lemurs do in the wild," including, apparently, striking out in search of young lady lemurs.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Duke Lemur Center Research - a lemur's perspective

Many people may think of research as being the “downside” to life as a captive animal. But that all depends on the kind of research you do! I can see, yes, if you happen to be a rat in a cage in a biomedical facility, you may be a bit nervous when seeing the scientist in the white coat approaching. But that is not what we do here! None of our projects harm the animals, and in fact, many of the lemurs get very excited (in a good way) when they see the researchers approaching. It means interaction. It usually means food. It never means pain. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Dr. Elizabeth Brannon has been conducting a study of numerical cognition in lemurs for several years now, and it involves the use of a touch screen computer. In a variety of trials that test numerical aptitude, the animals select from a series of photos on the computer screen and are rewarded for correct choices. Rather than bring the animals to the computer, the computer was installed in a mobile lemur-proof cart and it is wheeled into their cages for trials. You cannot imagine the glee in their little lemur eyes when the animals see that cart approaching. Not only are the lemurs happy, but this research has produced some fascinating results, showing that lemurs have transitive reasoning abilities, making it likely that the primate ancestor also had higher cognitive abilities than previously thought.
And let me tell you about Teres, a ring-tailed lemur whose female companion moved to another institution. He was depressed and losing weight. He then started participating in a project by Dr. Matthew O’Neill where oxygen consumption was measured as lemurs walked and ran on a treadmill to get an idea of how much energy was expended as they transitioned their gaits. Some lemurs -as some people- are much more inclined to walk on a treadmill than others. Some, in fact, just sit down and ride it to the back. Because this type of research at the DLC requires voluntary animal participation, the latter lemurs quickly earn a pass. Teres, however, took to the treadmill like a fish to water and not only provided an exceptional amount of data which allows us to better understand lemur energetics, he resumed his normal weight and is now living happily with another female, Cleomenis. It just goes to show that getting out, doing a little research, and getting some exercise can have a positive impact on your life. Even if you are a lemur.
We here at the DLC make every effort to come up with ways to make participation in research a form of animal enrichment; generally all it takes is a little creative thinking, positive animal interaction, and a handful of raisins.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Duke Lemur Center says, "Viva Las Vegas!"

What’s so special about Anne Margret and Elvis Presley besides staring in a great classic movie? Well, Margret and Presley are also the names of the two adorable twins born to Jody Foster at the Lemur Center on March 21st.

Confused? Let’s start at the beginning. Remember Foster? She’s a 14 year old blue eyed black lemur (Eulemur macaco flavifrons), one of only 9 flavifrons females in captivity in North America (males are much more plentiful with a population of 20). Flavifrons are a highly endangered subspecies of black lemur. Last year Foster gave birth to the famous blues brother twins, Akroyd and Belushi. (Stay tuned to the DLC blog for their first year birthday update as they graduate to free ranging in the forests of our facility this summer.) This year, Foster gave birth to another set of twins, and this time, one is a very special color.

RED…the color of hope for this species -the color of females. Mother Nature gives hope in small doses and this one comes in the form of a little red furry bundle of energy named Margret. All flavifrons are born red to blend in with their mother’s fur. But at about 6 weeks, the males turn black. It’s an anxious time for care takers who every day strain their eyes at two clinging infants wanting to see only red and trying to deny any hint of black fur growing. This year, Margret stayed red. She and her brother Presley are so far the only flavifrons infants born in captivity in North America and possibly the world this year. And Margret is the first female to be born at the Lemur Center since 2004.

Hope for this species could grow if only humans help. Foster is the only successful flavifrons mother in captivity at this time and even she needs help. Only 5 ½ weeks into their lives, Foster rejected her infant male Presley, just as she did the year before to the blues brother twins (when they were two months old). She left Presley with scratches across his fore head, alone on the floor. In efforts to save him, care takers took him for hand raising and made a heart wrenching decision - they would pull Margret off her mother too. Margret is too valuable to lose. With her mother Foster possibly nearing the end of her reproductive years, Margret must survive.

The future is uncertain for this stunning subspecies. Flavifrons don’t enjoy a great deal of protection in the wild. Their native ranges are mostly outside of parks and protected lands. This leaves them vulnerable to human impact. If Margret survives, and has many daughters of her own, the SSP (species survival plan) manager for this species will need to provide her and her offspring with a home (and mates), either at the Duke Lemur Center or at qualified zoos across the country. And who knows? Perhaps one day attempts may be made to reintroduce blue-eyed lemurs to protected habitat in Madagascar!

For now, Margret and Presley cling to their teddy bear mom and enjoy grooming from caring technicians with a tiny tooth brush. They are growing well and developing more each day playing with swings and branches and tasting new foods.

Intrinsic value is wrapped up in the wonderful emotions people experience from the existence of something. Take a look at Margret and Presley and discover how great the value of their little blue eyes can be.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New Tours at Duke Lemur Center

The Visitors' Center at Duke Lemur Center has been under renovation. Soon the doors will reopen to a fresh new look.

Duke Lemur Center will also be offering new tours - by appointment - as always.

Lemurs Live!

An ideal tour for families and friends, learn about the similarities and differences between lemur species and what makes lemurs some of the most fascinating animals in the world.

Tour length: 60 Minutes
Adults - $10.00
Children - (3-12) $7.00

Walking with Lemurs
*New in 2010*

Enter the world of the lemur as your guide escorts you into a Natural Habitat Enclosure where there are no barriers between you and the animals. A favorite tour among professional photographers; be sure to bring your camera as this experience offers views of the animals unlike any other.
Tour length: 60 Minutes
$95.00 per participant
Age Requirement: 10 years through Adult
Maximum group size – Eight Participants

Learning with Lemurs
*New in 2010*

Join us for a lemur training and research session to see how we teach the animals behaviors that allow us to give them the very best of care. Guests on this exclusive tour participate in the session and assist animal care staff as they demonstrate the use of positive reinforcement to care for the animals.

Tour Length: 60 Minutes
$150.00 per participant
Age Requirement: 13 years through Adult
Maximum group size – Two Participants

Tours are available by appointment

Call (919) 489-3364 Ext. 0 to reserve your space!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Fruitful Enterprise at the Lemur Center

On April 23 the 5th grade classes from our neighbor, Duke School for Children, planted fruiting trees and bushes at the Lemur Center. The plantings were made near the new “Releasable Building”, and will hopefully produce a steady supply of fresh, organic fruit to supplement the lemurs’ everyday diet. Before the actual planting, the students directed a ceremony which included speeches, and an official ribbon cutting.
The planting project was an exercise for the students, not only in plantation and care of food producing plants, but also to give the students experience in other aspects from planning to publicity, to management and accounting of the grant. As this particular class of Duke Schoolers moves on, the following class will pick up the responsibilities of plant care and harvesting. We are looking forward to a long term and very “fruitful” collaboration with Duke School students for years and classes to come.
Fruiting bushes/trees planted: fig, plum, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, hardy kiwi, roses (for hips), melons.
The project was supported by a $500 grant from the Disney Foundation.
by Charles Welch, Conservation Coordinator

Friday, March 26, 2010

Final Installment of Duke Lemur Center's recent visit to Madagascar

by Charlie Welch, Duke Lemur Center's Conservation Coordinator

Friday 2/12 – Fly out of Tana early this morning for Tamatave, with a quick stop in Ile St. Marie, a small island off the east coast of Madagascar. St. Marie was a major Indian Ocean pirate hangout back in the early 1700s, but that is another story. I am surprised that the flight is full out of Tana, and many seem to be affiliated with recently arrived mining interests in Madagascar, in particular a developing nickel/cobalt mine at Ambatovy, near Moramanga. The mined material will be sent as a slurry from the east central mining site, via a 200 km pipeline which will end in the port city of Tamatave. Tamatave is where many of the mine personnel are based. There the slurry will be processed and shipped out by boat. About a dozen of those on the flight are Filipinos, who are skilled labor brought in to work in the mine.
Coming back to Tamatave is always a pleasure, as it was our home for more than 15 years while we worked at Parc Ivoloina on behalf of MFG and DLC. It still feels like home. I am coming to Tamatave to participate in the inauguration of the newly finished dining facility and kitchen at the Ivoloina Training Center (ITC), and to meet with MFG Project Manager An Bollen on particular issues. The dining facility/kitchen facility is the last piece of the ITC puzzle, complimenting the meeting building, laboratory, and dormitory which are already completed and functioning. In fact, a training of school district officials at the ITC, in environmental education was just finishing up.
After checking in to the hotel, a quick visit to the in town office of the MFG makes it clear that the MFG’s work in Madagascar is continuing to evolve. For example, the natural history library there is now the largest in the Tamatave region, and is quite a resource for students of all ages. The office is capably managed by Nicole Vally, and the library by Romina Raharimampionana. French national Charlotte Gressin who is living in Tamatave is helping out with a variety of education and graphics projects. Impressive to see all the changes and capable new personnel since my last visit here, almost 2 years ago!
Met some with An, and MFG vice chair Ingrid Porton who is presently in town.
Saturday 2/13 – The day of the inauguration of the ITC dining area/kitchen building. Inaugurations are a big deal in Madagascar, and this particular one is no exception. We arrive at the ITC around 8:00 in the morning as preparations are underway. Many local villagers and elders are present for the inauguration – such events are opportunities to strengthen relations with local people, which is always important for conservation projects.
Low level government officials trickle in through the early hours, and when everyone expected is present the speeches begin on the temporary stage constructed for the occasion, and decorated with eucalyptus branches, and yellow alamanda flowers. The speeches are mostly in Malagasy, with a smattering of French. An gives her speech in Malagasy which is met with cheers and applause. My speech has to be in French with only a bit of Malagasy thrown in here and there. Master of ceremonies, Bernard Iambana is kind enough to translate my speech into Malagasy. The speeches thankfully wind down as shady spots become increasingly more difficult to find for those in the audience. The sun is blaring relentlessly in the 95% humidity, but better that than rain. Many of us vazaha are more than a little bit pink by the end of the day.
After the speeches is the main event of any inauguration in Madagascar, the killing of a bull and dividing up the meat between attendees. This whole process is interwoven with “kibary” by the village elders – traditional speeches to the ancestors, in a back and forth fashion, from one group of elders to another. Eventually the portions of divided meat are distributed to families, and a small platform table is constructed to hold the rice and meat offering to the ancestors. A pre-prepared post, sharpened at the tip, the “fisokana” is sunk into the ground near the building, and eventually the horns of the bull are mounted on the sharp tip of the fisokana. I should also mention that to promote the general good mood, rum and betsa-betsa (sugar cane beer) are distributed liberally throughout the day.
Finally, the ceremony ends with an enormous feast of more rice than can possibly be imagined, and of course fresh beef. All is spread out on newly cut travelers palm leaves, and little by little disappears into hungry mouths. Proud moment concerning the rice served at the ceremony is that it was entirely rice grown by SRI intensive rice paddy production on the Ivoloina Station property – no “tavy” or slash and burn rice (which is traditionally used).
After 7 hours the inauguration is complete.
Sun. 2/14 – A day off! Today is a time to spend with old friends in Tamatave. An Bollen has a BBQ at her house in the evening with friends and MFG staff. A lovely evening of good food, (including brochettes from inauguration beef), and very good company. The MFG staff made a nice presentation of flowers and a thank you speech for Ingrid, for her constant and tireless efforts on behalf of the MFG. And the same for An in honor of her dedication and hard work for MFG. Bernard gave a very moving speech.
Monday 2/15 – What a pleasant surprise this morning when as I am waiting for the MFG truck to leave the office for Parc Ivoloina, our old colleague and friend Chef Razokiny appears at the door. Chef Razokiny was the Eaux et Foret Chef de Station Forestier Ivoloina when Andrea and I first arrived in Tamatave in 1987. It was in large part due to our confidence and trust in Chef Razokiny that we felt that a Conservation Center at Ivoloina had potential, and was worth pursuing. He was a Chef of the old school sort who believed in hard work, and village relations, and just in general was quite strict (in later years he was known by the workers as “the colonel”!). When we first arrived at Ivoloinain ‘87 the entire staff was only Chef Razokiny and one animal keeper, Noel. Now between Ivoloina, Betampona, and the in town office, MFG has 35 Malagasy employees. Ivoloina and Betampona have come a long way since those early years, and the in- town office did not even exist until years later!
At any rate, it is wonderful to see Chef Razokiny, and chat for a while. He had eventually been transferred by Eaux et Foret at his own request to Parc National Marojejy, near Andapa, in the northeast. He is originally from that area, and wanted to return there for his last years of service. Chef Razokiny is retired now, and the reason for his being in Tamatave was to visit family.
Finally the MFG truck leaves for Ivoloina. It has been almost 2 years since I have visited the Station and the Parc and I am anxious to see all. Saturday was spent entirely at the Training Center, so today is reserved for the Station’s other aspects. First stop is the Model Station where improved farming techniques are demonstrated, including the SRI intensive rice cultivation in paddies. Also in the Model Station are vegetable plots (techniques for growing on slopes), a wide variety of fruiting trees and vines, and commercial products such as vanilla, cloves, pepper, and coffee. Any and all alternatives to slash and burn are grown on the plot. Also at the Model Station is the expansive tree nursery, containing both native trees and useful introduced species.
Next stop is some of the Station trails which have been put in place for visitors. As I walk the trails I also get a chance to inspect many of the plantations of native trees that we had made over the years. Exciting to see those trees doing well and getting ever larger. A returning natural forest ….
Next visit is to the Environmental Education Center, which for Andrea and I was the first addition outside of the Zoo itself – that was our first priority. The Center is in wonderful shape, and jam packed with fascinating exhibits with items from extinct elephant bird eggs, to whale bones. The Center now also includes a covered open air classroom, where the successful Saturday Class is held each week. Long time MFG employee Rostand showed me around the Education complex.
Finally I make it to the Zoo itself. Is good to see old friends, both human and animal. Noel still works there and is joined by long timer Georges among others. The Zoo looks well kept, and the animals (mostly lemurs of course!) look good as well. All very rewarding to see. Keeping a project going in a positive direction in Madagascar is not easy, but those that came after Andrea and I, first Karen and Gareth, and now An Bollen, along with the Malagasy staff, have done an amazing job. Ivoloina has evolved into a multi-faceted conservation center which is impacting lives and conservation on many fronts.
An is at the Parc this day as well, along with Charlotte carrying out a training with the staff on project evaluation technique. Always at work on something! She does also find time at the end of the day to meet and discuss some pressing issues.
Another good day.
Tuesday 2/16 – My last day in Tamatave. An and Ingrid are busy most of the day interviewing replacement candidates for Ainga, the capable Ivoloina Education Coordinator. Ainga has done a great job in his position at Ivoloina, but is moving on to other opportunities.
I squeeze in some souvenir shopping, then later meet with Yves Ravalison to try and help An find a solution to the stalled project of an electricity generating waterwheel at Ivoloina. The wheel structure is partially finished, but is at risk from floods at times of cyclonic rains (which generally occur several times a year). Not a straight forward dilemma, as is often the case in Mada.
Say my goodbyes to all, and fly out on evening flight for Tana. More familiar faces along the way.
Wednesday 2/17 My last day in Madagascar, but flight out is at night, so I have all day for meetings, etc. First met with Missouri Botanical Garden staff Chris, Jeannie, and Christian to review my site visits. Visits to both Makirovana, and to Montagne des Francais were very well coordinated and facilitated by MBG, and I am very grateful to them for their help. I got a very good exposure to both the natural and human aspects of the areas. Both sites are certainly worthy of additional protection. Many thanks MBG.
Another meeting was with Benjamin Andriamihaja of MICET. We discussed other priority conservation areas around the country in need of help, and the logistical requirements of becoming involved in on-the-ground conservation in Madagascar. It can be a very complicated and lengthy process, as I am already quite aware.
Had an early dinner with our veterinary trainees, Haja and Hery. Nice to see them a last time, and especially pleasing to hear that Hery has just received an offer of a part time position as an assistant to the primary veterinarian at Parc Tsimbazaza, in Tana. This is a great opportunity for Hery, and will hopefully be helpful to Tsimbazaza, which is Madagascar’s “national” zoo.
Finally head out to Ivato airport for my flight back to the US, via Marseilles and Paris. Is always with mixed feelings about leaving Madagascar – nice to think of being reunited with Andrea and Alena, but a bit like leaving home again. Seems strange even to be traveling alone, at the airport after passing through so many times “en famille”.
My time in Madagascar has gone very well, no cancelled flights and no cyclones! Lots to think about now and to consider in terms of DLC involvement in an on-the-ground conservation sense. I can’t help but think about how very long, and how much hard work it took to transform Ivoloina and Betampona into viable conservation projects. And the continual effort that it takes on behalf of the dedicated MFG staff to keep those projects hitting on all cylinders. But maybe now is the time to expand DLC’s conservation ambitions beyond our participation in the MFG (which we will always continue to support). One thing is certain, the need for effective conservation action in Madagascar has never been so urgent.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Duke Lemur Center Report from Madagascar

by Charlie Welch, Duke Lemur Center's Conservation Coordinator
Wed. 2/10 – This morning I flew out of Sambava, to Diego Suarez (also known as Antsiranana). That is only a 45 minute flight but takes you from the eastern wet forest to the much drier climate at the northern tip of Madagascar. Diego is an interesting city with more Arab and Muslim influence. There is a large Comorian community as Diego is the closest Madagascar city to the Comore islands.
Diego also has an enormous bay with only a small outlet into the surrounding Indian Ocean. Because of that strategic fact, the area has an interesting military history, including British forces attacking French Vichy forces here in WWII.
I am in Diego to investigate another potential natural area for DLC to become involved in - Montagne des Francais. It is another area that MBG has studied and found to be a priority area for conservation in particular for its unique flora. I am met in Diego by MBG rep. Jimmy. After a quick change into field clothes, and picking up a Conservation International rep., Monica, as well as 4 local university students, we are off to nearby Montagne des Francais. The students have various interests in natural areas, and are along to take advantage of the outing opportunity. It is nice being out in the forest again with enthusiastic students (some in flip flops only for footwear over the rugged terrain!)
We begin our walk through degraded areas, and the forest improves as we climb gently upward. It is a very different type of forest than at Makirovana – much lower canopy, with a different mix of species which include the widely used tropical ornamental flamboyant tree, in its native habitat. Also in this forest are various species of baobabs, some of which are quite endangered. MdF is a calcareous mountain area, and so not surprisingly our guide takes us to a large cave. It is easy to climb down into, and walk about in, but not very deep, nor with impressive rock formations. Easy to imagine it offering shelter from storms to many over the years. After the cave, we continue into the forest, through a valley with limestone cliffs rising on either side. Large baobabs are growing out of the rock fall at the foot of the cliffs. It is a very beautiful and striking area. Nearer to the cliffs we are shown implanted anchors for the ropes of climbers, put there by a local French tourist operator who brings climbers from time to time. After winding our way through the forest, often off trails through tight, blood-letting shrub stands, we make it back to the trucks by mid-afternoon. We were a bit disappointed to neither see nor hear any signs of lemurs. Crowned lemurs are the only diurnal species in MdF forests.
A meeting has been arranged with local villagers, so after the usual delay we all sit down together on benches outside, arranged in a U shape. The conservation problems in this area are different from Makirovana. The forest is under pressure from local villagers making charcoal to sell in nearby Diego. Any and almost all wood can be cut and made into charcoal by burning stacks of the wood slowly in an oxygen poor situation. The particular village that we meet with is one of the few fokontany to make a real effort to reduce charcoal making. The other approximately 20 fokontany in the MdF area continue to cut trees and make charcoal. Many in the area are said to be immigrants from other regions of Madagascar who are accustomed to making their livelihood directly off the forest. Their practices will not change easily. The villagers that we spoke to seemed a bit frustrated at being one of the few cooperating villages, and did not seem to be completely pleased with what they were getting in return.
Thurs. 2/11 – This morning I participated in a meeting in Diego, with all the conservation and government players in the area. There were reps. from MBG, Conservation International, WWF, Water and Forest Department, tourism, university, and local government officials. Though I was the only non-Malagasy person at the meeting, they were kind enough to conduct most of the meeting in French (rather than in the Malagasy language). I gave a presentation explaining the DLC, and our conservation objectives in Madagascar, and potentially in the area. I fielded many questions afterward. There was much interest in the conservation work that Andrea and I had been involved in at the Ivoloina Conservation Center, where we worked until 2004.
Montagne des Francais is a very interesting area, which is loaded with potential as an ecotourism site, and as an environmental education and training site. Its relative nearness to Diego is what causes the charcoal problems, but the proximity to Diego also makes it a relatively easy trip for school groups and university students. It would be an easy additional half-day option for tourists in the area, different from the other outdoor, natural experiences presently available. In theory local people could benefit from a constant stream of visitors. Too bad that the area does not have more lemur species!
This afternoon I flew to Tana, via Nosi Be (which involved an aborted landing in a thunderstorm and 20 minute fly-about as the storm cleared). Will have to stay in Tana tonight before catching the next flight to Tamatave in the morning.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

You can help save lemurs

Finally! There is an action you can take that will help us save lemurs, and it won't cost you a dime!

Pepsi is giving money to help worthy causes, and they are letting you decide which causes are worthy.

Starting on March 1, 2010, go to www.refresheverything.com. Look under the category The Planet, or look under the $50,0000 category. Search for Duke Lemur Center: Path to Tomoroow.

Vote for us once each day. (You can vote for up to 10 causes per day.)Ask you friends and family to join you in voting. Ask everyone you know!

The top 10 causes getting the most votes each month will receive money from Pepsi. Think how much you could help. And all you have to do is click!

Monday, February 15, 2010

More 1st hand news from Madagascar

Travel Notes from Charlie Welch, Duke Lemur Center's Conservation Manager
Tues. 2/2 – Leaving for Sambava tomorrow. Today I met with University of Antananarivo Veterinary School Director, Dr. Jhon Rasambainarivo and some of his staff, at the Vet School. Dr. Jhon is the father of Fidy, Ivoloina’s very capable staff veterinarian. Had a very nice meeting with them, and tour of the School. The School is simple and certainly has needs, but I was very impressed at what they had been able to accomplish with the funds that they do have available. Especially remarkable were the 3 new labs of different types. We are hoping to be able to collaborate with the Vet School in some way that will further their teaching capacity. A first step is the donation of the veterinary medicine books that we are sending from DLC.
Wed. 2/3 – Chris Birkinshaw of Missouri Botanical Garden and I fly to Sambava this morning. Sambava is on the northeast coast of Madagascar, in the heart of the vanilla producing region. It is a region where there is more remaining forest than in other parts of the eastern wet forest. As we flew in I was struck by the number of villages in the area, which makes it difficult to imagine that the remaining forest can hold on for much longer.
This afternoon Chris and I, and the MBG representative in the area, Dorien, visited some NGOs and agri-businesses working in the region. One such agri-business was a company which is promoting and buying jatropha. Jatropha is a small very adaptable tree that grows in a variety of situations. The seeds produce useful oil, and are bought by this particular company. It is one of a variety of alternatives to slash and burn. We also met today with the regional director of the Water and Forests Department. He was kind enough to see us, although his mind is now heavily on the critical matter of illegal exploitation of rosewood in the region.
Thurs. 2/4 – Today we met with village elders from 3 different fokontany (villages) in the Makirovana – Tsihomanaomby (M-T) area, a site we’re investigating as a potential DLC conservation site. One of my interests is to see what their attitudes are towards forest protection. A bit to my surprise, they were all anxious to see the forests near them protected, in large part because they are feeling the impact of the slash and burn cutting on the slopes. The resulting erosion is ruining their rice paddies in the low areas. Also, they are seeing a decrease in water flow from important water sources. The local people are all interested in help with irrigation projects to improve their rice output – conservation tradeoffs. At any rate, I was very encouraged by all 3 meetings. The third of the 3 villages, Antanandava is off the main road, so required a scenic but long walk (20 kms roundtrip). The village sits on the banks of the large Bemarivo River, and you could tell that they don’t see vazaha (white foreigners) so often. Throughout the meeting, the doorways were crammed with 20+ children’s heads watching our every peculiar move!
Fri. 2/5 – Today we finally strike off into the forest for a tour of the M – T area, however not before getting corralled into a meeting with hundreds of middle school students, by one of the enthusiastic local mayors. We were of course once again the center of attention, and we each spoke about the importance of forest protection, and congratulated them on their reforestation efforts. Schedules have to remain fluid in Madagascar …
To get to the M-T area we had to cross areas of agricultural land, including my least favorite walking in the world, through rice paddies. Not actually through the paddies, but in the drainage canals. Wet feet starting off a long walk, and in not so clean water. Complaining aside, or almost aside, the walk into the forest was relatively short, but the heat and the uphill grade made it a bit challenging to hold pace. Not the walker that I was 10 years ago.
Once we were into the forest we began to immediately come across places where rosewood had been illegally cut. And not just cut, but dug around and removed at far below ground level! I suppose that the good news was that there was no evidence of recent cutting, nor did we hear any cutting while we were in the forest. The not so good news is that the reason is probably that there is no more rosewood of appropriate size left in this particular forest. But at least the forest intrusion has ceased there for the time being. The forest was generally healthy looking, though lacked a normal percentage of larger trees. Some other less valuable tree species had been removed as well.
The guides and porters led us to an area in the forest where we set up camp. Even managed to get tents set up, and dinner cooked and eaten before the sky opened up and rained buckets non-stop for hours.
Sat. 2/6 – Lemurs finally! Just as we were getting up this morning a group of about 5 crowned lemurs moved very quickly through the camp area. They were very shy, and we could only manage glimpses. People do eat lemurs in this area, and I am told not only is hunting by snare traps, but also with guns. Unfortunately lemurs are eaten in the larger towns as well – lots of “sensibilization” to be done in this area about the ecological damage from choosing to eat wild game meat. In any case, the hunting makes for very flighty lemurs that are difficult to get very close to.
We struck camp early, leaving the porters to finish and meet us eventually back at the main road. We spent the morning doing a slow walking tour around the forest. Today I was more encouraged about the bird life that we came across. We saw blue coua, crested ibis, and other species which are indicators of relatively good forest. One spot that we stopped and rested was just jumping with continuous bird activity. Unfortunately we saw no more lemurs.
By afternoon our walk had taken us out of the good forest into a mix of degraded and agricultural land. Mostly there were rice paddies and “tavy” (slash and burn) rice on the hillsides. With the price of vanilla at a tenth of what it reached several years back, many locals throughout the northeast have converted their vanilla plots into tavy rice production. At least with the vanilla some plant cover is left, and there is no burning. Tavy simply has no positive up side. Eventually we crossed rice paddies again, and came out to the road at the village of Ambodisambalahy. As we walked along the road, someone was kind enough to give us a ride to our rendezvous point of Ambavala. From there it was back to Sambava.
Sun. 2/7 – Today Chris B. flew back to Tana. There are only 3 flights a week between Tana and Sambava, so our choices are limited. Having Chris not only helping to coordinate my time here, but also come along himself was invaluable. And Dorien’s help and guiding was indispensible. Very impressive what Dorien has been able to get done in this area as the only MBG representative on the ground here. His relations with the local people are excellent, and he has had success in making people aware of the importance of protecting the M-T forest (which does actually now have a low level of protected status) and getting people to cease cutting and cultivating in the “strictly protected” zones. Not an easy task.
As Chris leaves, silky sifaka researcher Erik Patel arrives in Sambava. Erik has agreed via email to spend some time with me in the area. With Erik is his research assistant Kristen, who will be settling in for a 3-month stay at Erik’s research site. The site is in Marojejy National Park which is about 2 or 3 hours drive from here, on the road to Andapa. We will make a visit to that area tomorrow and Tuesday, but unfortunately will not have the time to get into the forest to see the silkies.
Mon. 2/8 – We leave at mid-morning for Andapa. After leaving the road that continues northward along the coast, we slowly began gaining elevation, and the air becomes just a bit cooler. Mountains surround us, and as we approach the steeply sloped area of Marojejy NP, the Park’s distinctive peaks remain shrouded in clouds. A very impressive and scenic sight. Marojejy is not one of Madagascar’s most visited parks as it is somewhat off the usual tourist routes, and it’s also quite difficult to walk the steep trails. I do believe though that it is one of the most scenic areas that I have seen in Madagascar. We stop at the park office and visitor center, where I am shown the exhibits, which include a giant aye-aye photo by DLC’s David Haring. Erik works very closely with the Park guides here, and there are some very capable ones. After some quick programming with those that work for him, Erik and I continue up the road, continually upward, until we arrive in Andapa. As beautiful a natural area as Marojejy Park is, the Andapa area is equally as appealing from a human on-the-land standpoint. The town lies in a natural basin that is surrounded by mountains on all sides. The flat basin floor is covered from one side to the other with rich and productive emerald green rice paddy fields. Really quite a sight to behold. Erik and I walked to a nearby hill where we could get a good view of the basin.
We met with the regional Madagascar National Parks Director who oversees Marojejy and Anjanaharibe Sud protected areas. As often happens in this small country, he was a familiar face from years earlier, and seemed pleased to meet again. A friend of Erik’s in Andapa kindly invited us to dinner with his family. The friend and his wife work sometimes in tourism in the area as guides for groups. Because of the political situation, and because of the rosewood cutting publicity, very few visitors have been coming to the area, making life difficult for those who depend on tourism.
Tues. 2/9 – Spoke with the hotel owner about the difficulties of drawing tourists when rosewood is still being illegally cut. We spoke with many who are very frustrated with the situation, for a variety of reasons.
Later, drove back to Sambava.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Duke Lemur Center's Direct Connection to Madagascar - Charlie Welch

Travel Notes in Madagascar
From Duke Lemur Center's Conservation Manager, Charlie Welch

Fri 1/29/10 – Arrived in the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo (Tana) at 4:00 AM after leaving Durham around noon on Wednesday. It is a long tiring flight, but at least only 1 stop between Paris and Tana. In any case, as sleep mostly escapes me on flights, I arrived tired, yet with a list of things needing to be done before the weekend. So, several cups of coffee and onward.

It seems so familiar to be back here in Madagascar – crowing rosters starting up in the wee hours of the morning, the smell of eucalyptus smoke from cooking fires, and the thousands of pedestrians streaming along both sides of the city streets. Tana looks a little more worn, and worn down than usual. These are tough economic times for most Malagasy, and it shows.

Today’s tasks included setting up meetings, buying a cheap cell phone and prepaid minutes (a much better deal than we get in the US with our required contracts!), purchasing Air Madagascar tickets for internal flights, and having a meeting with staff of the Madagascar national zoo, Parc Botanique et Zoologique de Tsimbazaza (PBZT). The latter meeting was to discuss potential collaboration on veterinary issues. The DLC's recent veterinary trainees, Haja and Hery, participated in that meeting. It was good to see them, and they send their best wishes to all on the DLC staff. We followed the meeting with a tour of the zoo. After more discussion and catching up with Haja and Hery over a coke in a nearby hotely, and my day was finished. I gladly collapsed into my hotel bed and slept wonderfully until I came full awake 3 hours later. Wonderful jetlag…

Sat 1/30 – Not much that can be done over the weekend days, so writing and studying the conservation site report. Succeeded in talking to some friends and colleagues on my brand new phone, but must confess to struggling with the texting. Ivoloina staff veterinarian Fidy Rasambainarivo is in Tana for several meetings, and he stopped by the hotel to pick up one of my 2 pieces of luggage to take it back to Tamatave with him tomorrow. The bag is full of things for Tamatave only, so no need for me to tote it all over northern Madagascar. My last stop is Tamatave. Was great to sit down with Fidy and catch up, and very kind of him to take the bag off my hands.

MFG project manager An Bollen is also in town for meetings, and she is here with Ingrid Porton, vice chair of the MFG who has also just recently arrived from the US. Had a nice dinner with them and also Richard Lewis, the director of Durrell Conservation programs in Madagascar. Finally a chance to down a few THB beers! A very nice evening.

Sun 1/31 – Still having that annoying jetlag sleep pattern. More time spent writing and studying the Makirovana conservation report.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Energy efficient new housing for endangered animals at Duke Lemur Center

by Greg Dye, Operations Manager
After more than 10 years of planning, a year of actual construction and several million dollars, Pyxis, Hunter and their five kids moved into their home. From a historic stand point the event was very non dramatic. The seven red ruff lemurs voluntarily walked into their kennels during the morning’s training session and then were literally carried down the road and released into their new habitats. It only took a couple of minutes before all seven started exploring their new digs like children finding an unexpected stash of Christmas presents.

This building is one of two that will be home to 60 lemurs. It’s called the Releasable Building because it was designed with the purpose of giving the lemurs the ability to free range in acres of Duke Forest. Additionally the building provides every lemur with spacious indoor/ outdoor habitats when it’s too cold for them to be romping around Duke Forest. Habitats can be reconfigured by providing interconnecting pass-throughs and over head tunnels to create multi-dimensional suites for a lemur family. The interior space will be kept at a warm 68 to 72 degrees during the winter and air conditioned during the summer. A built-in watering system provides the lemurs with clean filtered water 24/7. Each of the new buildings is equipped with a gourmet restaurant quality kitchen space, state-of-the-art veterinary examine room and a work space for researchers. There are even more design features that have led to the building receiving a silver LEED rating. For those of you not familiar with the LEED rating, it’s a way of measuring the energy efficiency of a building. Features such as: the use of energy efficient windows that allow natural light to pass through so that less electricity is used to light the building, using special water fixtures that reduce the building’s water usage by 15,000 gallons a year, using more than 20% recycled building material and making sure that 70% of the construction waste was recycled along with the use of motion sensors that turn on and off lights that will save 20% more energy all reflect the Lemur Center’s commitment to preserving the world around us. As for the lemurs, I think it’s accurate to say that many of these details escape them, but they sure seem to enjoy them none the less.