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.
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.
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.