We have a sort of obsession with lemurs in my house. It all started about 18 months ago when my younger daughter, six months at the time, was crying inconsolably.
My older daughter, always ready to help, showed her sister a picture of a big lemur face in the day's paper. The baby's cries immediately turned into big belly laughs. The picture now hangs on our refrigerator and, most days, my two-year-old points to it.
So we're always on the look out for lemurs in books, at zoos that we've visited and elsewhere. It's funny how many places we've spotted them. And, of course, the obvious place for this lemur-loving family to go was the Duke Lemur Center where we got an up close and fascinating look at these adorable animals.
The center, established in 1966 in Duke Forest in Durham, is the world's largest sanctuary for lemurs. It houses about 250 animals, including 233 lemurs. Lemurs are primates found on the island of Madagascar.
The center's aim is to promote research and understanding of lemurs and their natural habitat. Center staff and students conduct research, encourage efforts to preserve the animals and works to educate the community and world about lemurs.
The center went through a big renovation in the past couple of years, allowing it to offer indoor tours during the winter. The upgrades also include paved paths, making it easy for wheelchairs and strollers, along with indoor plumbing and changing tables. There's also a gift shop with lemur-themed merchandise.
If it's been a couple of years since you visited the center, Niki Barnett, its education and development associate, tells me that the experience is now completely different.
"Everything has changed," she said. "We have two brand new buildings. We have a brand new summer tour path. The campus looks really different."
Tours, which start with a quick video, are about an hour long and are tailored to the age of the visitors. You'll see and learn about different kinds of lemurs. The tours include a visit to the lemur who played Zoboomafu on the PBS Kids series of the same name. Visitors also see a collection of nocturnal creatures. Among them are some of the center's 20 aye ayes, which make up about half of the worldwide captive population of this small animal.
Reservations are required if you want to tour the center. You'll need to reserve a spot about a week in advance if you want to take a weekday tour. Barnett recommends calling a couple of weeks in advance if you want to tour on the weekend. Click here for more about the tours.
The cost for a tour is $10 for adults and $7 for kids ages 3 to 12 and seniors ages 60 and up. There are discounts for college students with an ID, Duke employees and groups. For older kids, from age 10 or 12, and adults, the center offers special tours - Walking with Lemurs, Learning with Lemurs and Lemur keeper for a day.
And you'll find some fun lemur-related activities on its website.