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LCN Member of the Month: Duke Lemur Center

The Lemur Conservation Network member of the month showcases our members’ work, and shares how we can help them in their battle for lemur conservation. The month of May is dedicated to Duke Lemur Center. In this blog post, we interviewed Sara Clark, Director of Communications and Guest Experience Manager, who tells us all about their important work and how we can support them.

Tell us a little bit about the history of the Duke Lemur Center.

Blue-eyed black lemur family – Photo by David Haring

In 1966, John Buettner-Janusch, a Yale anthropologist, partnered with Duke biologist Peter Klopfer to relocate Buettner-Janusch’s colony of lemurs from Connecticut to the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The National Science Foundation (NSF) provided the funds to build a “living laboratory” where lemurs and their close relatives could be studied intensively and non-invasively. In 1966, the nascent Duke Lemur Center (then called the Duke University Primate Center) was founded on 80 wooded acres, two miles from the main Duke campus.

52 years later, what began as a collaboration between two researchers studying the genetic foundations of primate behavior has blossomed into an internationally-acclaimed facility that supports research across a huge variety of disciplines.

Ring-tailed lemurs troop – Photo by David Haring

The DLC is home to nocturnal, diurnal, and cathemeral animals as well as species that encompass a wide range of social systems, modes of locomotion, and dietary preferences.

Such diversity yields a large and diverse research program, and students and researchers from across campus and around the world travel to the DLC to study topics ranging from brain sciences to biomechanics, One Health disease dynamics, aging, paleontology, genomics, and more. The one thing that all DLC research has in common is that it is non-invasive: we do not allow research that will harm our animals.

Learn more about the Duke Lemur Center

Where is the Duke Lemur Center located?

A world leader in the study, care, and protection of lemurs, the Duke Lemur Center is a hub of scientific discovery on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

With nearly 240 animals across 17 species, the DLC houses the world’s largest and most diverse population of lemurs outside their native Madagascar.

Our mission is to advance science, scholarship, and biological conservation through interdisciplinary non-invasive research, community-based conservation, and public outreach and education.

Which lemur species do you work with?

Lemur species currently housed at the DLC:

  • Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis)
  • Black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata)
  • Blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons)
  • Collared lemur (Eulemur collaris)
  • Common black lemur (Eulemur macaco)
  • Coquerel’s sifaka (Propithecus coquereli)
  • Crowned lemur (Eulemur coronatus)
  • Eastern lesser bamboo lemur (Hapalemur griseus)
  • Fat-tailed dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus medius)
    Grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus)
  • Mongoose lemur (Eulemur mongoz)
  • Red-bellied lemur (Eulemur rubriventer)
  • Red-fronted brown lemur (Eulemur rufus)
  • Red ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra)
  • Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta)

Other species:

  • Pygmy slow loris (Nycticebus pygmaeus)
  • Slow loris (Nycticebus coucang)
  • Thick-tailed bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus)

How does the Duke Lemur Center help lemur conservation?

Non-invasive research

The more we learn about lemurs, the better we can work to save them from extinction. Lemurs are the most endangered group of mammals in the world. They are endemic only to Madagascar and so it’s essentially a one-shot deal — once they are gone from Madagascar, they are gone from the wild.

By studying the variables that most affect their health, reproduction, and social dynamics, we learn how to most effectively focus our conservation efforts. And the more we learn about them, the better we can educate the public around the world about just how amazing these animals are, why they need to be protected, and how each and every one of us can make a difference in their survival.

Community-based conservation

The DLC works “on the ground” with local Malagasy communities to preserve lemurs’ natural habitat.

30 years of conservation experience has taught the DLC that sustainable forest protection in Madagascar is a long-term investment that requires building relationships and earning the trust of local people.

The DLC-SAVA Conservation project relies on a community-based approach to protecting natural forests, using an array of project activities designed to protect the forest and to improve the lives of the Malagasy people.

The DLC also works within a network of other accredited institutions to develop and adhere to Species Survival Plans (SSPs), which use carefully planned conservation breeding programs to create a “genetic safety net” for rare and endangered species such as the aye-aye, sifaka, and blue-eyed black lemur. In partnership with these institutions, we’re helping to ensure “the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and stable” population of lemurs for the long-term future.

We’re proud to have celebrated more than 3,285 births since our founding in 1966.

Public outreach and education

Because its research is non-invasive, the DLC is open to the public. More than 25,000 people visit every year to learn about lemurs, science, and conservation. Revenue generated by our public tour program and camps helps fund the Education Department and pay for lemur care, housing, veterinary supplies, and conservation programs in Madagascar.

Learn about visiting the Duke Lemur Center

Summer camp with aye-ayes – David Haring

In addition, the DLC offers unparalleled educational and research opportunities to students and faculty. Field research internships introduce students to lemur research and data collection, the Director’s Fund offers financial support to Duke graduate students pursuing research at the DLC, and classes offered through Duke’s Department of Primate Anthropology often include observations of free-ranging lemurs.

Our online resources and MicroCT scans of fossils from the DLC’s Division of Fossil Primates — available at no charge at ‚ are utilized internationally as educational and research resources. The Division of Fossil Primates itself comprises what is probably the world’s largest and most important collection of early anthropoid primates, the group that includes living monkeys, apes, and humans. In addition, its skeletal specimens of extinct giant lemurs from Madagascar are unmatched anywhere else in the world.

What are some of your recent achievements?

  • Andrea Katz, who served as the Duke Lemur Center Curator since 2006, has moved into a new and exciting role: Program Manager, Madagascar Conservation Initiatives. More info: A new initiative for lemurs in Madagascar.
  • Two critically endangered blue-eyed black lemurs (Eulemur flavifrons) were born at the DLC in March:
  • In fall 2017, the Duke Lemur Center welcomed blue-eyed black lemur breeding pair Mangamaso and Velona from Parc Ivoloina – the first lemurs imported to the U.S. from Madagascar in 24 years: Duke receives two critically endangered lemurs from Madagascar.
  • Duke Lemur Center veterinarians partnered with specialists from Triangle Veterinary Referral Hospital in Durham, NC to diagnose and surgically remove rare cystine stones in the gallbladder of Junebug, a pygmy slow loris. The team’s detection and successful treatment of Junebug’s gallstones could improve medical care for lorises living at zoos and conservation centers around the world. Learn more: It Takes a Village: Lemur Center vets collaborate with local specialists to heal a rare pygmy slow loris.
  • Non-invasive research on the DLC’s grey mouse lemurs could help explain the initial stages of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Duke researchers hope their work will help identify people at risk sooner, before they develop symptoms, or point to new ways to delay onset or slow progression of the disease. Read more and watch the video: What mouse lemurs can teach us about the aging brain.
  • DLC Director Anne Yoder has been awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship, which will support her research project “Building and Saving Trees in Madagascar.” The project combines Anne’s commitment to “conserving Madagascar’s gravely-threatened biodiversity with her love of phylogenetics and all things genomic” (John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation press release).

Do you have volunteer opportunities at Duke Lemur Center?

Volunteers are essential to the daily operations here at the DLC, and we couldn’t what we do without them! We offer a variety of volunteer opportunities that require different time commitments and focus on different interests, from animal care to gardening to public education.

Learn more about volunteering

What do you need donations for right now?

The Government of Madagascar’s (GOM’s) Wildlife Department has requested the assistance of the Duke Lemur Center to advance the state of lemur husbandry and breeding management in Madagascar’s zoos.

Working with the GOM, longtime DLC employee Andrea Katz has moved into a new role as Program Manager of Madagascar Conservation Initiatives. This project links the DLC staff’s expertise in captive conservation to urgent needs for improved lemur welfare and conservation breeding programs in Madagascar.

Andrea lived in Madagascar for more than 15 years and has played a vital role in much of the DLC’s work there over the past decades. She has also served as the DLC’s Curator, overseeing the care and husbandry of the DLC colony. In her new role, Andrea will expand the DLC’s work on the island to improve animal welfare, husbandry, and breeding programs for ex-situ lemur populations in Madagascar.

100% of funds for the DLC’s work in Madagascar – including Andrea’s new role – are from private donations and grants.