50 Years of Lemurs and Counting

January 3, 2022
Research Archives

By Andrea Wright-Macedo, published in our 2016-17 issue

A Look Inside the Duke Lemur Center

2016 marked the 50-year anniversary of the Duke Lemur Center’s founding by Yale anthropologist John Buettner-Janusch and Duke biologist Peter Klopfer.  Over the last five decades, the DLC has cared for nearly 4,000 animals, establishing itself as a celebrated global leader in prosimian preservation and research. The center boasts the world’s largest, most diverse colony of lemurs, lorises, and bush babies outside of their native Madagascar.

Currently, about 250 lemurs, across 18 different species, call the DLC their home. Since its founding, the conservation facility has expanded to include multiple laboratory and research spaces that accommodate for both diurnal and nocturnal animals, as well as indoor and outdoor free-range enclosures of up to 14.3 acres – perfect for roaming, socializing, and carrying out naturalistic behavior.

The lemur center also acts as a main learning site for students in the Duke Evolutionary Anthropology department as well as work-study employees, volunteers, and undergraduate research interns.

Current Projects

Lemurs are primarily arboreal animals, residing in the upper forest canopy levels of trees. Due to humans’ destruction of their natural habitat, lemurs are currently our planet’s most threatened group of mammals. Within the DLC’s lifetime, the amount of forest cover in Madagascar has decreased by approximately 40%. In the face of such environmental devastation, the DLC has undertaken several community-based projects in Madagascar in an impactful effort to protect its endangered wildlife.  

In 1997, the DLC successfully accomplished the first re-introduction of the endangered ruffed lemur into a protected nature reserve in Madagascar.  

In 2012, the center established the SAVA (Sambava-Andapa-Vohemar-Antalaha region) Conservation initiative in eastern Madagascar to facilitate environmental education among local students, reforestation strategies, sustainable agricultural practices, and conservation research. The lemur center’s dedication to conservation is not limited in scope to wildlife.

The DLC recognizes that the protection of a community must be all-inclusive, involving all members of that environment, ranging from humans to animals and their habitats. As a result, the DLC-SAVA partnership also heavily promotes the adoption of fuel-efficient stoves and fish farming practices to support healthier living among the Malagasy population. The incorporation of fuel-efficient stoves eliminates 50% of current wood-use while providing cleaner air in people’s kitchens. Fish farming produces a safer, protein-rich alternative to hunting bush meat, which is believed by many in the research community to be a major contributor to the HIV/AIDS epidemic through hunters’ blood exposure to potentially infected primates.

50-Year Scientific Symposium

Beginning September 21st, the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club hosted a two-day conference and gala celebrating the Duke Lemur Center’s major contributions to wildlife conservation and the global primate research community. The symposium featured many distinguished speakers such as Dr. Steven Austad (award-winning research biologist), Dr. Meredith Barrett (VP of Science and Research at Propeller Health tech. company), and conservation entrepreneur Alex Dehgan. Presented topics ranged from lemur cognition, physiology, and behavior to disease transmission and the DLC’s continued progress towards conservation in Madagascar.  

“The Duke Lemur Center through its living laboratory advances science, scholarship, and biological conservation through interdisciplinary research on lemurs. By engaging scientists, students and the public in new discoveries and global awareness, the Center promotes a deeper appreciation of biodiversity and an understanding of the power of scientific discovery.” – DLC Mission

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