Learning about Lemurs (and loving it) in North Carolina

I think I first learned about a community of lemurs living in North Carolina a few years ago while googling “monkey things” as a work distraction. Lemurs are the most threatened group of mammals in the world, and the Duke Lemur Center is home to the largest and most diverse group of the little critters outside of Madagascar.

The center was founded on 80 wooded acres a couple miles from the Duke University campus, and today it houses nearly 250 primates across 21 species. This is all part of a non-invasive/no-harm research and conservation program that’s a pretty big deal in the lemur world.

1Unlike some primate sanctuaries, this one is open to the public if you take a guided tour. There are several tour options available, including the most basic “Lemurs Live!” tour, Behind the Scenes tour, Walking with Lemurs tour, Painting with Lemurs tour, and the Lemur Keeper for a Day experience (that one sounds awesome but costs $350 per person).

On a Saturday morning in late August, we checked in at the visitor’s center and browsed around the little gift shop for souvenirs. A lemur shot glass seemed like a necessary addition to the bar collection back home.

IMG_8290The Walking with Lemurs tour sounded pretty sweet, so that’s the we did. It’s offered between May 1 and October 26, starts at 10:30 am, and lasts 60 minutes. This one costs $95 per person, but tour fees do go towards the care of the lemurs.

To get started, we walked out with our guide and a small group to a wooded area to witness feeding time first-hand.

IMG_8294It didn’t take long for the lemurs to hear their dinner bell and come running!

IMG_8325There were two kinds of lemurs in the area that we walked in: coquerel’s sifakas and the ring-tailed Lemurs.

IMG_8398Their breakfast looks like a vegetarian’s delight (sign me up for this detox plan), and they neatly picked through the serving bowls to fill their bellies.

IMG_8386Well, some of the hungrier ones just put their faces in the bowls. Manners are overrated.

IMG_8509Unlike some of the tours that showcase lemurs that live inside cages, the Walking with Lemurs tour lets you get up-close and personal with the little guys. They’re incredibly used to humans, so as long as you don’t touch them, you’ll be just fine.


It was fascinating just to hang out and observe the lemurs here…eating, climbing, drinking water, and just stretching out their legs.

IMG_8548However, there are several other kinds of lemurs that live at the center, including nocturnal ones that live inside a dark building in another part of the woods.


Our guide ushered us inside, pulled open the blinds to their enclosures, and flipped on some dim red lights. They were a little hard to spot, but grey mouse lemurs, pygmy slow loris, and aye ayes were lurking about and lemur-ing around in here.

IMG_8637The tour was only an hour, and I wish I would have had a little more time to hang out with the lemurs, but I still had a blast on the tour. Having us around didn’t really seem to faze the lemurs, and I like to think they enjoyed the company.


These lemurs were so playful and friendly, and it’s really impossible not to smile and laugh when they’re running and climbing around you. I’m not sure if or when I’ll ever make it Madagascar, but only seeing lemurs in the wild over there would top this experience. What an adventure that would be!

So next time you’re planning to pass through the Raleigh/Durham area, consider giving the Duke Lemur Center a call to see if you can join a tour and start your day off with a dose of lemur shenanigans.

And since this is the time of year we’re all racking our brains for gift ideas, there’s an “Adopt a Lemur” program at the center that makes for thoughtful eco-friendly gifts. I made a donation last Christmas and my gift recipient received a really nicely presented “I Care” package with a certificate, photo, animal fact sheet, and window cling. And in my book, helping feed a lemur sure beats getting another unnecessary pair of socks.

And in other primate travel news, don’t miss: 

Exploring a Monkey Jungle in Miami

If you haven’t noticed a trend in my posts lately, I’m a big fan of primates…the non-human ones in particular. This year I visited a chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven, in Louisiana and a gorilla sanctuary, Dewar Wildlife Trust, in Georgia.

Related: A Visit to Chimp Haven Sanctuary – Keithville, Louisiana

RelatedGorillas in Georgia?! A Tour of the Dewar Wildlife Trust Sanctuary

So when I recently found myself in Southern Florida, I did a quick search to see what furry friends might be in the area to greet me.


I came across a wildlife park called Monkey Jungle, which was established in 1933 by Joseph and Grace DuMond. It was Joseph’s dream to establish North America’s first free-range colonies of monkeys for researchers to study them in a natural habitat. The couple relocated from Connecticut to South Florida and purchased 10 acres of land because the climate here was similar to the monkeys’ home in Southeast Asia.


He began charging curious visitors $0.10 admission to fund his scientific studies, and there were originally no barriers between the public and the monkeys. However, Java monkeys are super territorial and after aggressively defending their new homeland a few too many times, Joseph put cages around the public walkways, thereby still allowing the monkeys to roam free.


I was initially a little skeptical about this place? Was it more of a sanctuary or more of a zoo? What’s life really like for the monkeys inside and what brought them to this strange, foreign place?


Although not a true sanctuary, Monkey Jungle is considered a “bio park” where conversationalists conduct projects and guests and learn about different primate species. About 400 monkeys roam around Monkey Jungle today, which now spans 30 acres, including an Amazon Rainforest area.


During my visit, I checked out four primate presentations put on by the staff. The first featured a feeding of treats to Java monkeys in a natural pool of water.


Then I “met” Mei, Monkey Jungle’s lone orangutan and King, the one and only Western Lowland gorilla on site. Finally, I watched an Amazonian Rainforest feeding with howlers, black-capped Capuchins, and squirrel monkeys.


My favorite of the four presentations were the Wild Monkey Swimming Pool. The Java monkeys truly seem to truly have it best at Monkey Jungle. Unlike the Diana Monkeys and the White Handed Gibbons, the Javas really do have free reign of the place and green space to climb and play. Meanwhile, some of the other species were kept in were kept in cages that resembled clean, yet zoo-like conditions.


One of the most fun aspects of visiting Monkey Jungle was feeding treats to the primates through tubes and hanging baskets. For a small fee, you can purchase raisins in tiny boxes at the front desk and feed the monkeys from a safe distance. I am terrified of raisins due to bad childhood memories, so I opted for some tasty cranberries instead. They wait patiently (or not so patiently) for visitors to drop fruits in the metal baskets and then yank them up for a mid-day snack.


To prevent endangered monkeys in the wild from becoming extinct, Monkey Jungle breeds monkeys like the Golden Lion Tamarin. Less than 500 of these exist in the wild.


The wildlife park recently broadened its conservation efforts to create a sanctuary for parrots that have been domesticated and then ditched by their owners. It works with the Wings of Love Foundation to build aviaries at Monkey Jungle to house parrots who have been displaced and can no longer be cared for.


To add to the mix, there were also some tortoises randomly roaming around…


And an lazy lizard that was working its way towards a whole new layer of skin!


It costs $29.95 to get in, however you can print a $2 coupon from the website to save a couple bucks for the snack bar. There’s also an amazing gift shop here that has everything a stuffed pink monkey lover could ask for.

12Monkey Jungle is located just off U.S. 1 in South Dade, a short drive from the beach and bar scene of Miami. It’s an excellent pit stop on a road trip to Key West as well. Monkeys sure aren’t native to South Florida, but it seems like they’re doing well and enjoying themselves down here!