Friday, August 8, 2014

Lifelong Dream Comes True At Duke Lemur Center

 Getting ready for an exciting day at the Duke Lemur Center
All photos by: Melissa Arditti

Our next destination was Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC. I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I was about going here. I was counting down the hours and watching the sky because rain was in the forecast, and I wasn’t sure exactly how the touring process would go.

As you can see, I took a photo of my dad’s GPS as we arrived. It was easy to get there from our hotel (Staybridge), approximately 10 minutes or so, with moderate traffic.

There was ample signage, so we always knew that we were heading the right way.

The closer we got, the more giddy I became. Breathe….breathe….. This was my first trip to Durham ever and of course, my first time ever getting a tour of the Duke Lemur Center.

After getting out of the car and taking a swig of water, I saw this wonderful art sign. It had all my favourite prosimians! Can you name them all?

So the schedule for the day was “Painting with Lemurs” and then a private “Lemurs Live” tour. Our tour guide, Chris, was still on lunch, so my parents and I walked around the gift shop area and I had a chance to meet Robin Smith, the Communications Specialist at DLC who provided me with a boatload of information for this article.

The gift shop had so much to choose from, it was hard to just pick a few things. However, I got an adorable sifaka plushy, cute ears to match the tail that I have back home, and a postcard of a group of ringtail lemurs for my collection.

Before the painting component started, I was asked to pick the colours that I wanted the lemurs to paint with, which was fun. I chose a bright purple, pink and sparkly blue.

Here you can see the video of the lemurs painting, father and daughter. We were not allowed inside, so I apologize if you cannot see clearly. However, I will describe more in detail what went on and show more photos.

A number of canvases were placed on the ground and paint (all non-toxic water colour so it is perfectly safe) was spread around. The lemurs when they were ready would jump all around, making a “portrait” piece with their cute little feet and even their noses. As an on-going reward for all their energy spent, the lemurkeeper gave craisins galore. You can see how happy these little lemurs were getting spoiled.

The most amazing thing about “Painting with Lemurs” is that the lemurs get to show their creative sides, and work on their visual-spatial and cognitive processing skills. If you think all they do is leap around in a cage all day, think again. Duke Lemur Center provides stimulating activities on a regular basis for our wonderful primates and with 12 dedicated lemurkeepers on staff, no lemur ever feels neglected.

Some other interesting news is that mouse lemurs are becoming a top area of research into figuring out the aging brain in humans and the symptoms of Alzheimers. Pretty fascinating and you can read more here.

The cost of feeding 250 primates that are at Duke Center is quite expensive, as they are fed usually twice daily. The DLC organic garden is a terrific way to keep costs lower and to provide lemurs with balanced and nutrient-rich food, like kale, romaine lettuce and a variety of fruits. Sifakas sure love their dose of kale! The downside though is that not everything is accessible year-round and in certain weather conditions, it could put a drain on resources. The DLC work very hard to ensure the lemurs get a proper diet by choosing a mixture of conventional and organic produce. I would really like to see a large farm near by donate an acre or two for the Center. It would be a great way to bring the community of Durham together and to preserve the lemurs, as we all know that they are at such a high extinction rate.

After the lemurs were done painting, these were the finished products:

Continuing our tour on-foot, we visited a number of lemurs. Please note that we weren't allowed to touch the lemurs at all. As you can see from the sign, DLC has protocols for each tour to ensure the utmost safety of any visitor.

All the lemurs were quite well-behaved. Some have different temperaments, but the sifakas seemed the most out-going. This one appeared to be mimicking Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” song. Hehehe…

Despite not being able to bond more without the bars between us, we still had an amazing opportunity to have an in-depth tour around the facility and met all our lemur friends and even some nocturnal ones too. I did my best taking photos through the cages for your viewing pleasure below.  Just take a look at their eyes! Enough to make me melt.

If you'd like more information, you can go to their "Meet the Lemurs" page.

Another great initiative is taking place in Madagascar, as DLC has offices there. With a growing population of over 22 million now, lemurs are being hunted and their habitats are getting destroyed. Soon, they will become extinct. There is a dire need to educate the residents of Madagascar about environmental, agricultural and especially family planning issues. Progress is slow, but changes are happening and this really gives hope. It is not a question of “us vs them,” it is about co-existing in a non-threatening manner, valuing primates as they are the key to a lot of important research for human insight, and respecting their homes. Lemurs are truly fortunate to have a safe haven like Duke Lemur Center, where they are taken care of and there is a lesser chance of harm.

After learning more about what Duke Lemur Center offers and how dedicated the staff and volunteers are, it was important to make a small contribution. I know it will go towards the upkeep of the garden, research and development, animal and medical care for the lemurs, all the on-going activities and more. Every dollar counts, so if inclined to, make a donation here.

Travelling from Windsor to Durham, North Carolina was quite an excursion, but one that brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.

To book your tour and learn more about the Duke Lemur Center, please visit their website.

Thanks to Robin Smith, Communications Specialist and Niki Barnett, Education Programs Manager for their combined efforts in arranging these tours and making our time so special. Oh and thank you to Chris, our wealth of knowledge educational specialist/tour guide. I would highly recommend him to anyone.

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