Local News

Avocados to blame for deaths of aye-ayes at Duke Lemur Center

Posted December 15, 2016

Four aye-aye lemurs died suddenly at the Duke Lemur Center.

— Officials at the Duke Lemur Center said Thursday that avocados were the cause of death for four lemurs who died in October.

Lemur Center officials believe that a natural toxin found in avocados the animals ate set off damage to their heart muscles, resulting in death within 36 hours on Oct. 25 and 26. A fifth lemur made ill in the incident is still recovering.

Avocado leaves, pits, skin and possibly the fruit contain a toxin called persin that the plant produces as a natural antifungal. Persin is not harmful to humans, but it is known to be an issue for domestic cattle, horses and goats, as well as several species of bird. It had not been recognized as a threat to lemurs.

Lemur Center Operations Director Greg Dye said avocado is now off the menu for all of the lemur center’s 230 rare and endangered animals.

Norman Bates, age 7, died at 4 p.m. on the 25th. Merlin, 22, died 20 minutes later. Morticia, 28, a wild-caught aye-aye from Madagascar, mother of seven and a matriarch of sorts for the colony, died just before 1 a.m. on the 26th. Her granddaughter Angelique, 11, Merlin’s daughter and the first aye-aye born to two captive aye-ayes, died just before 5 a.m.

“The only good to come from this tragedy is that we now know to be wary of avocados. Hopefully our recommendation can prevent this from ever happening again, either at the DLC or any other collection that houses aye-ayes,” said Lemur Center Director Anne Yoder.


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  • Mary Meadows Dec 16, 2016
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    Jeff and Linda Please read. It says tongue in cheek. I'm actually surprised they didn't know it was poisonous and I'm not joking.

  • Linda Levine Dec 15, 2016
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    I don't find anything humorous about this situation or about the abuse of animals and am sorry to see someone would post something like that in response. It is just not a funny subject. I am glad they found out what caused the deaths so they can prevent any additional deaths. I had the pleasure of visiting the center earlier this year and really enjoyed learning about lemurs and that the center is able to provide support for research and preservation of the lemurs in their natural habitat.

  • Jeff Franklin Dec 15, 2016
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    My god, what an ignorant response. That was the first thought you had, huh?

    Good lord

  • David Lisle Dec 15, 2016
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    Tongue in cheek. Where is the SPCA and all the other flora and fauna advocates? You mean to tell me that after having these animals in captivity ( yes keeping them against their will for years) and then poisoning them, they get a free pass? To paraphrase "Oops, we didn't know avocados were deadly." I'm sorry I don't see the outcry that they deserve!