Field Work Fridays: The Duke Lemur Center


Our playgroup children all like animals, so when I heard about the Duke Lemur Center, I called to ask for a tour.  I didn’t realize that this was such a large and important place.

The Duke Lemur Center resides on 13 acres in Durham, North Carolina.  It houses the largest colony of lemurs outside of their native Madagascar – the only place where they can be found in the wild.  With more than 240 lemurs present and others loaned out to other institutions world wide, the research and care being given here is vitally important to these endangered animals.

Although you can see the Lemur Center from the highway when you know what you’re looking for, to get there you drive on gravel lanes and through several gates.  If I hadn’t had good directions, I never would have found it.

While we waited for everyone to arrive, we watched video footage of some of the lemurs residing in the Center.

Gretchen, our friendly tour guide, welcomed us to the Lemur Center and started a short video about the Center itself.  Though the video we learned about the lemur keepers, what a typical day’s schedule looks like, and about some of the research happening at the Center.



As we headed outside to begin our tour, Gretchen stopped us near this map of Madagascar.  Each colored zone represents a different type of landform and the kinds of lemurs that live there.  Due to the clear-cutting of much of the land, the lemurs that once roamed freely throughout Madagascar now live only in the coastal regions.

Since it was fairly cold on the morning of our tour, the lemurs were inside.  Each family of lemurs has two indoor rooms and two outdoor rooms where they can play and visit.  The rooms are interconnected by windows that can be opened or closed to allow the lemurs to access each area.  Lemurs are not comfortable in temperatures cooler than 40 degrees F, so we observed these lemurs through the glass.

These are ring-tailed lemurs.

This sifaka seemed pretty interested in us.  He stayed right there in the window throughout our visit.

Inside the Nocturnal Building lived several different types of lemurs, the aye-ayes being one of them.  To make visiting and studying these animals easier, they are kept in darkness during the day to trick them into thinking that it’s nighttime, and then the lights are turned on at night so they sleep.  The rooms glowed with a red light during our visit, but we were only able to see one aye-aye, and a small tracking light on a camera scared him off.  The kids all liked playing in the light, though.



These are the kinds of lemurs found in the Nocturnal Building.

Our kids all posed for a picture before re-entering the main building for some final information before leaving.  


Gretchen carried around pelts from deceased lemurs and let us feel the fur.  Some was very soft, others much more wiry.  We also glimpsed the large skull of an extinct lemur that would have been nearly the size of a man.  Scientists believe that it has been gone for about 1600 years.


**Having recently learned a lot about the debate between evolution and Creationism, I was surprised to hear many, many evolutionary ‘facts’ throughout the tour and video.  I thought we would be learning only about the animals, but the tour was much more complete than that.  With a child much older than My Little Man, I would need explain more of this information to him – but he was only interested in the animals, their habits, and what they eat.  Should you decide to go – and the animals are fascinating! – it may be best to know how you choose to handle this type of discussion.

So be sure to look around your own area.  There may be some amazing field trip opportunities just around the corner!


* Shared at I Can Teach My Child.

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