Go Into the Wild at Duke Lemur Center

Go Into the Wild at Duke Lemur Center

No need to travel to Madagascar to see endangered lemurs. The largest population – outside the island nation – lives right here in our own backyard.

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Photo by Briana Brough

My kids are big fans of the animated film “Madagascar,” and of course, the main character, King Julien, the hyperactive, booty-shaking lemur with a penchant for belly laughs and dance parties.

Not surprisingly, when I offered to take them to see a real-life lemur up close, they jumped at the chance.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to splurge on flights to the far-flung African island. As it so happens, the world’s largest population of lemurs outside of Madagascar is located right here in our part of the world.

Playing like lemurs…Jonah Allam, 6, and Noa Allam, 3, at Duke Lemur Center.

The Duke Lemur Center – situated on 70 acres in Duke Forest – is an internationally acclaimed research facility housing nearly 250 animals across 21 species.

The center offers a range of appointment-only tours – including the new “Little Lemurs” tour designed for younger children.

At the time of our visit, it hadn’t been launched yet so we signed up for the one-hour “Lemurs Live” tour ($12 per person for ages 12 and up, and $9 for children ages 3-11, with kids under 2 free).

On this given Saturday, we arrived to the center nestled deep in the forest by way of a winding dirt road, with our two kids in tow – Jonah, 6, and Noa, 3. Once there, we were promptly ushered into a room to watch a 5-minute “Wild Kratts”-style informational video.

Dr Bobby Schopler feeds lemurs in the wildlife enclosure at the Duke Lemur Center.

Next up, we headed out back to check out the lemurs firsthand. During the warmer months, the lemurs can roam outside in free- range enclosures. But as soon as temperatures dip below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, they are moved indoors which is where we got to see them through glass-paneled walls.

Our tour guide, Dr. Mark Chandler, was on hand to offer his encyclopedic knowledge. Among the interesting tidbits: lemurs are loud (black-and-white ruffed lemurs’ cries carry half a mile), incredibly intelligent (they can understand numbers and sequencing) and big on smells (each lemur has its own unique scent, like a fingerprint).

During the warmer months, the lemurs can roam outside in free- range enclosures. But as soon as temperatures dip below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, they are moved indoors which is where we got to see them through glass-paneled walls.

They can also be a little cheeky. A few years back, a pair of ring-tails, Berisades and Ivy, vaulted the fence to escape on a 36- hour adventure. But don’t worry, they were eventually found safe and returned, and escapes are usually rare.

Overall, this was a fun outing with the family. Admittedly, some of the information went over my kids’ heads but in the end, it didn’t matter. Getting to observe an aye-aye up close was just one of many moments that kept them amused and laughing most of the tour.

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