My visit to the Duke Lemur Center this semester was not my first. I am from Durham, and having grown up around DUke, my family and I frequently took visit, and I actually even took several field trips with my middle school! During my sophomore year I was a part of an Animal Science class that required me to participate in a Sustained Agricultural Experience (not until later would I discover another meaning of an SAE), and I chose to volunteer at the lemur center. I followed so many tours that I almost completed my training to become a tour guide! During my time at the gift shop, I frequented interactions with Duke University physical anthropology majors, and the studies they were conducting through the Lemur Center were fascinating to me. During this experience, I decided to become an anthropology major and I haven’t looked back once.
During the summer after my freshman year at Wake, I got to conduct research for a woman named Anne Yoder who is the director of the Lemur Center. Dr. Yoder is one of the most incredible people I have ever met, and she loves lemurs as much as Dr. Rodrigues loves spider monkeys. After conducting some fairly simple research (more like data mining) through the NCBI GenBank, Dr. Yoder took us on a behind the scenes tour of the lemur center. We first got to enter into the Aye-Aye enclosure, which was amazing. I love how the enclosures for the nocturnal lemurs are light-controlled so that their sleep schedules coincide with humans. The Aye-Aye itself was super cool, and I got to see its middle tapping finger in action! We also got to see the red ruffed lemur (who was really loud!) The coolest part of the tour was when we got to travel into the outside enclosure to be with the sifakas and ring tailed lemurs.
I loved seeing the sifakas, who are my favorite lemur, moving by brachiation in the trees and on the fenced roof and hopping on the ground. We were instructed to maintain a relatively safe distance from the sifakas who can exhibit aggressive behavior. Which, though important for obvious reasons, was difficult to do 😦 The ring tailed lemurs were also so awesome, and I got to feed one! They are clearly very habituated to humans, and approached us fairly quickly. It was clear that the female ring tailed lemurs dominated the scene. The males made no attempt to receive their food before the females, which was interesting to me. If a male came to close to the food bearers, the females would verbally let him know that was not cool. The ring tailed lemurs also exerted some dominance over the sifakas, who maintained a safe distance away in the trees.
One of my favorite parts about the lemur center is the noises you can hear while roaming around. It feels as though you are in the midst of Madagascar jungle, and different individuals interact with one another, even though you cannot see them.