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Duke Frees Four Favorite Furry Attractions

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DURHAM — Duke University is losing some of its most popular attractions, but there is no sorrow, just smiles. Four lemurs at the school's Primate Center will soon be free in the island nation of Madagascar. It is all part of a mission to save an endangered species from extinction.

Their names are Dawn, Jupiter, Tricia and Barney. They are ruffed lemurs preparing to leave a fenced-in home for the wide open spaces of their native land Madagascar.

"This is actually the first reintroduction involving lemurs," Primate Center operations manager Dean Gibson said. "We released five last year. We're planning on four this year and possibly four-to-six next year. Whether or not the project continues depends on how well these animals do."

The Duke University Primate Center has 21 of the 32 species of lemurs. In the wild of Madagascar only 30 lemurs remain. Humans have destroyed their habitats for farm land and even hunted them for food. However, there is hope for their survival.

"It is better in the protected areas," Gibson said. "The government of Madagascar has established a pretty good protected area system, and these animals are being released into a protected area."

Even in protected areas there is risk. Last year, two of the five reintroduced lemurs died - one killed by a predator, the other from a fall. To improve their chances in the wild, the lemurs have gone through a sort of boot camp.

"Once they go to Madagascar, keepers won't be throwing food to them," Gibson said. "They'll have to climb trees to find their own food."

If these lemurs adapt, many others may follow. The keepers said a lot depends on Dawn, Jupiter, Tricia and Barney.

"We try to train them the best we can; however, you never really know how we you've done until they are released," Gibson said.

The four lemurs leave for Madagascar on October 27. Of the lemurs released last year, one of the females is pregnant and expecting babies at the end of the month.


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