Duke Lemur Center Website
The Duke Lemur Center houses one of the largest collections of lemurs outside of their native Madagascar. Lemurs are pro-simian primates which basically means they are precursors to monkeys. The Center is a research facility for learning about these primates. Touring the Center takes you on a very small loop walk (less than a city block) outdoors.
First, you need to know that you can only tour the Center by appointment. Tours start at 10:30am and run at 11:30, 1:30 and 2:30. You must call to make an appointment and the Center prefers 48 hour notice if you have to cancel. During the summer, tours book up fast and the morning tours are harder to get which is why we were touring in the afternoon during nap time.
When you arrive for your tour you're directed into the Visitor's Center for an introduction by your guide, followed by a 12 minute orientation video. The video introduces you to the lemurs and their diet. It also details daily operations at the Center and highlights some of the ongoing research. The Visitor's Center also houses the gift shop and the bathrooms.
The tour then continues outside as your guide spends 45 minutes leading you around to the different enclosures. The trail around the enclosures is stroller friendly, but the tour itself is not young child friendly. Our tour guide spent a lot of time talking in detail about each species, which did not keep the attention of little minds. I thought it was just my kids (3 and 5 years-old) that were bored but I noticed a 4 and 9 year-old on the tour were busy gathering piles of pine straw rather than listening to the tour guide. I commiserated with their mother on how difficult it was to have young children on a tour where the presentation was geared towards older children and adults. She said that she had visited the Center with her daughter's preschool group and the presentation was just as long and dry for that group as it was today.
It was hard for my kids to get a good look at the lemurs. The large enclosures have little boxes for the lemurs to rest in and escape the heat. On a day like the one we visited where the temp was in the 90s, the lemurs were smart enough to hide in their little cubbies. One of the tour guides offered treats to the lemurs in order to get them to come closer. But being so small, it was hard for my kids to push through the crowd of almost 20 other people on the tour to get close enough to see.
The last stop on the tour is the Nocturnal Room where you can see a few different species of nocturnal creatures related to lemurs. The Room is lit by red safelights - the kind used in photographic darkrooms - so it will take a minute for your eyes to adjust to the darkness after being out in the sun. I thought the dark would scare my kids crazy, especially my three year old, but both of them managed to keep it together. The Room is really a short hallway with four rooms off of it, two on each side. The guide opens the shade on each room allowing you to peer inside. We could only really see one of the animals. The lack of light makes it hard to see anything unless it's close to the door.
This was a hard trip for Capt. Dad. My three year-old and five year-old wanted to do anything but listen to the presentation. My 3 year-old picked up handfuls of gravel from the trail and threw it, wandered into the vegetation beside the trail, and fought with his sister about whose turn it was to ride in the stroller. My 5 year-old complained, fought with her brother, and considered stepping into the small creek that ran in between two enclosures. I was not two minutes into the tour before I entertained the idea of giving up, forfeiting the $24 I had paid for the tour and packing everyone back in the car for home. But with Survivor's Eye of the Tiger playing in my head, I pushed on and tried to keep my kids from distracting the other visitors too much. In the end, I was glad I stuck it out till the end of the tour just for the accomplishment of having endured an hour long presentation with cranky and distracted children.