Duke Lemur Center – Durham, North Carolina - Atlas Obscura

Duke Lemur Center

This research center for rare prosimians is studying how they sleep to help prolong human life. 

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The Duke Lemur Center is not a center for college-educated prosimians from Madagascar, but is instead the world’s largest sanctuary for lemurs, lorises, and bush babies. In addition to its conservation work the center is also conducting research that may lead to advances in the science of prolonging life. 

Begun after 1966 when a group of researchers purchased a swath of Duke Forest to create an open natural habitat, the center has grown to encompass 85-acres of land on the campus. In addition to protecting the uncommon little apelets the sanctuary uses them to study both what might be common between us and them and also what is not. 

Lemurs are a type of prosimian (a slightly archaic classification that describes primates that seem less evolved than apes and monkeys) that can only be found on the island of Madagascar, but that is not the only thing that makes them incredibly unique. Lemurs are also the only simian that hibernates. This odd behavior and its physical benefits are the focus of recent studies at the Duke center in the hopes that we could learn to replicate the process in humans, essentially leading to dramatically longer lifespans.

Visitors to the center can take a tour by appointment but be warned, the crafty little beasts have been known to escape, although none of them have made it back to Madagascar. The center was also home to the original lemur from the PBS children’s show Zoboomafoo, and is now home to his descendants, including his grandson.

Know Before You Go

Reservations are required to visit, even for the gift shop. Off-season is October – April, when there are no general public tours, although the gift shop remains open. Since lemurs are not naturally adapted to cold weather climates, on-site tours are seasonally dependent from October through April. General Tours: Friday 5-7 pm, Saturday & Sunday 10 am-12 pm Private Tours: Mondays at 9:30 am & 11:30 am.

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