Duke Lemur Center

Durham, NC |
Joined in February 2019

About Us

With nearly 240 animals across 17 species, the Duke Lemur Center houses the world’s largest and most diverse population of lemurs outside their native Madagascar.

A world leader in the study, care, and protection of lemurs - Earth’s most threatened group of mammals - the DLC is a hub of scientific discovery on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Our mission is to advance science, scholarship, and biological conservation through interdisciplinary non-invasive research, community-based conservation, and public outreach and education.


Curiosity and knowledge prompt discovery. Discovery prompts action. And the more we learn about lemurs, the better we are able to protect them in the wild, care for them in captivity, and engage the public to not only care, but to participate. And how do we discover? Through research!

In 1966, John Buettner-Janusch, a Yale anthropologist, partnered with Duke biologist and Yale alumnus Peter Klopfer to relocate Buettner-Janusch’s colony of lemurs from Connecticut to North Carolina. The National Science Foundation provided the funds to build a “living laboratory” where lemurs and their close relatives could be studied intensively and non-invasively. In 1966, the nascent DLC was founded on 80 wooded acres, two miles from the main Duke campus.

Today, what began as a collaboration between two researchers studying the genetic foundations of primate behavior has blossomed into an internationally-acclaimed facility that supports research across a huge variety of disciplines. The DLC is home to nocturnal, diurnal, and cathemeral animals as well as species that encompass a wide range of social systems, modes of locomotion, and dietary preferences. Such diversity yields a large and diverse research program, and students and researchers from across campus and around the world travel to the DLC to study topics ranging from brain sciences to biomechanics, One Health disease dynamics, aging, paleontology, genomics, and more. The one thing that all DLC research has in common is that is non-invasive: we do not allow research that will harm our animals in any way.

Lemurs are found in the wild only in Madagascar, where their habitat has dwindled to only a fraction of what it once was: only about 10% of the original vegetation cover remains. To protect the world’s only wild lemurs and the biodiversity they represent, the DLC works “on the ground” with local Malagasy communities to preserve lemurs’ natural habitat.

Learn more about the DLC’s research program:


Madagascar is the 10th poorest country in the world, with subsistence agriculture being the primary driver of forest loss.

35 years of conservation experience has taught the DLC that sustainable forest protection in Madagascar is a long-term investment that requires building relationships and earning the trust of the local people. The DLC-SAVA Conservation project relies on a community-based approach to protecting natural forests, using an array of project activities designed to protect the forest and to improve the lives of the Malagasy people.

While our in-situ conservation initiatives focus on lemurs living in their natural habitat (Madagascar’s forests), our ex-situ initiatives address the conservation and care of lemurs living away from the forest in zoos and conservation centers across the island. In addition to protecting wild lemurs in the SAVA region of northeastern Madagascar, the DLC has partnered with the Government of Madagascar’s Wildlife Department to advance the state of lemur husbandry and breeding management in Madagascar’s zoos: two national zoos and 12 privately-owned zoos, constituting a total of 645 lemurs across 20 endangered species.

Here in the United States, the DLC also works within a network of other accredited institutions to develop and adhere to Species Survival Plans (SSPs), which use carefully planned conservation breeding programs to create a “genetic safety net” for rare and endangered species such as the aye-aye, sifaka, and blue-eyed black lemur. In partnership with these institutions, we’re helping to ensure “the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and stable” population of lemurs for the long-term future. We’re proud to have celebrated more than 3,285 births since our founding in 1966.

Learn more about the DLC’s Madagascar Conservation Programs:


Because its research is non-invasive, the DLC is open to the public. More than 32,000 people visit every year to learn about lemurs, science, and conservation. Revenue generated by our public tour program and camps helps fund the Education Department and pay for lemur care, housing, veterinary supplies, and conservation programs in Madagascar. Learn more at

In addition, the DLC offers unparalleled educational and research opportunities to students and faculty. Field research internships introduce students to lemur research and data collection, the Director's Fund offers financial support to Duke graduate students pursuing research at the DLC, and classes offered through Duke's Department of Primate Anthropology often include observations of free-ranging lemurs. Our online resources and MicroCT scans of fossils from the DLC’s Division of Fossil Primates - available at no charge at - are utilized internationally as educational and research resources.


There are MANY reasons lemurs are important and interesting! Here are some of our favorites:

The more we learn about lemurs, the better we can work to save them from extinction. Lemurs are the most endangered group of mammals in the world. They are endemic only to Madagascar and so it's essentially a one-shot deal - once they are gone from Madagascar, they are gone from the wild. By studying the variables that most affect their health, reproduction, and social dynamics, we learn how to most effectively focus our conservation efforts. And the more we learn about them, the better we can educate the public around the world about just how amazing these animals are, why they need to be protected, and how each and every one of us can make a difference in their survival.

Lemurs are an extremely diverse taxonomic group. Currently there are over 100 species of lemur identified, and those species vary dramatically in their styles of locomotion (how they move), diet, social structure and behavior, activity patterns (nocturnal, diurnal, cathemeral), etc. Lemurs are much more diverse in these ways than are the monkeys and apes. From this perspective, a question can be studied within closely related species but from many different angles.

Lemurs are an amazing example of speciation in response to environmental niches and challenges, and thus are an ideal study system within the field of genetics/genomics.

Most lemurs live in a female-dominant society - and this is relatively rare in the primate world. Studying female-dominant primates yields interesting comparisons to male-dominant or co-dominant societies, and also makes possible the study of why female dominance evolved and how (for example, changes in hormone levels and external anatomy).

Lemurs (along with the other prosimian primates - lorises and bushbabies) are the most ancestral primate. They were the first to evolve along the primate lineage, approximately 65 million years ago - long before monkeys evolved and long, long before apes evolved. So lemurs and other prosimians retain more primitive features such as a wet nose, a heavy reliance on olfactory communication and less on eye sight, and less manual dexterity compared to monkeys and apes. By studying these early representatives of the primate family tree, we gain tremendous insight into primate evolution. We even learn more about ourselves (since humans are primates) by studying these "living fossils".

With nearly 240 animals across 17 species, the Duke Lemur Center houses the world’s largest and most diverse population of lemurs outside their native Madagascar.

A world leader in the study, care, and protection of lemurs - Earth’s most…

Issue Areas Include

  • Animals
  • Education
  • Environment & Sustainability
  • Research & Social Science
  • Science & Technology


  • 3705 Erwin Road, Durham, NC 27705, United States

Photos for Duke Lemur Center

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