This feature-length video adventure—created by the Duke Lemur Center in celebration of World Lemur Day on October 30, 2020—is co-hosted by Duke alumnus Martin Kratt, co-creator of Zoboomafoo and Wild Kratts! Through Martin’s story and so many others, Me and You and Zoboomafoo explores how one place, nestled in the forests surrounding the Duke University campus, can inspire a whole world of impact.
Martin shares stories of how his experience at the Lemur Center took him from being a Duke undergrad to an Emmy Award winner who’s introduced generations of children to lemurs and wildlife conservation. Of course, the film features LOTS of behind-the-scenes footage of the DLC’s lemurs, too, and even some retro Zoboomafoo!
Part I: Unique to Duke. Unique in the World.
Founded in 1966, the Duke Lemur Center (DLC) is an internationally acclaimed non-invasive research center housing over 200 lemurs across 14 species—the most diverse population of lemurs on Earth, outside their native Madagascar. Nestled on 80 acres in Duke Forest in Durham, NC, the DLC is like nowhere else in the world.
But how and why did lemurs end up at Duke, and exactly what makes the Lemur Center so unique? This section answers those questions—and so many more!
Part II: Student Discovery
Did you know that 1 in 12 undergraduate applications to Duke mentions the Lemur Center? Hear from former Duke student Martin Kratt (Duke ’89), an Emmy Award-winning wildlife filmmaker dedicated to teaching children about wild creatures and the preservation of endangered species, as he discusses his experience at the Lemur Center as an undergraduate—including why he chose a lemur to star in his hit PBS Kids program Zoboomafoo. In addition, we’ll hear from current and former students about how their involvement at the Lemur Center impacted their lives and careers (17:50-22:40).
From 22:40-24:35, we highlight the work of another undergraduate—Alex Dehgan, J.D., Ph.D. (Duke ’91)—whose experience at the Lemur Center inspired his career working to save animals from extinction. Since graduating from Duke, Dr. Dehgan has served as Chief Scientist at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); as Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Afghanistan Biodiversity Conservation Program, where he led efforts to create Afghanistan’s first national park; and is the CEO and Co-founder of Conservation-X Labs.
Part III: Strepsirrhine Stars
When Jovian was cast to play Zoboo, few could have anticipate the legacy that he and his family would have on the future of lemur science and conservation. DLC staff scientist Lydia Greene, Ph.D. (29:56-33:17) explains how studying wild lemurs in Madagascar and their peers at the Lemur Center helps inform conservation and husbandry strategies, train the next generation of American and Malagasy scientists, inspire curiosity and engage the general public, and promote international collaborations rooted in teamwork.
Lemurs are the most endangered group of mammals on Earth, and of the ways the DLC is working to ensure that we never know a world without them is to maintain a “genetic safety net” by carefully managing an international conservation breeding program. From 34:00-40:49, we’ll meet Blue Devil, the first aye-aye ever born in captivity. Today, the DLC’s founding eight aye-ayes have descendants in conservation breeding programs around the world. Be prepared—lots of cute baby lemurs in this section!
The Duke Lemur Center recognizes that our work to protect lemurs here at Duke University and in cooperation with other AZA-accredited organizations is not enough: we must also take action to care for and protect lemurs on their native island. From 40:49-42:36, we’ll hear about the Lemur Center’s partnership with the Government of Madagascar to develop a program to advance lemur care welfare, and conservation breeding programs for ex-situ lemur populations across the island.
Part IV: Magical Madagascar
Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and features some of Earth’s most amazing and diverse biological life. Remarkably, the more than 100 species of lemurs found in Madagascar exist naturally nowhere else on Earth. Such extreme endemism is characteristic of all forms of life on this oceanic island: 98% of Madagascar’s mammals, reptiles, and amphibians and over 90% of its 12,000+ plant species are found nowhere else on the planet.
Yet despite these riches, Madagascar struggles economically, consistently ranking among the 10 poorest countries in the world. Its biological richness is also in peril: Since humans arrived on the island 4,000 years ago, tremendous deforestation and animal extinctions have occurred. Less than 16% of Madagascar is now covered in forest, and within last 60 years, forest cover has decreased by nearly 40%. At least 17 species of lemurs and many other megafauna, such as the 10-foot-tall elephant bird, have recently gone extinct. Currently, lemurs are considered the most threatened mammal group on Earth.
In this section, we explore the sights and sounds of Madagascar and the DLC’s community-based approach to protecting Madagascar’s forests. This approach—developed over 35 years of living and working in Madagascar—is designed to address environmental issues affecting conservation and sustainability while simultaneously improving the lives of the local people.
Part V: Learning Lemurs
How did lemurs arrive on the island of Madagascar millions of years ago? Why are there so many different species? From 49:52-53:25, we’ll hear from Anne Yoder, Ph.D., who discovered the Duke Lemur Center as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, then returned years later as the DLC’s Director. Dr. Yoder’s doctoral dissertation, written while she was a graduate student at Duke, provided evidence that the 100+ species of lemur living on Madagascar today descended from a single common ancestor. This section includes stunning footage from the IMAX film Island of Lemurs: Madagascar, parts of which were filmed at the Lemur Center.
The more we learn about lemurs and the factors that most affect their health, reproduction, and social dynamics, the better we can care for them in captivity and focus our conservation efforts in Madagascar. From 53:26-56:05, the DLC’s Director of Research, Erin Ehmke, Ph.D., provides an overview of the Lemur Center’s research program: Why study lemurs? What can we learn, and why does it matter?
One of the hallmarks of the Lemur Center’s research program is that it is non-invasive: we would never allow research that hurts an animal or causes undue stress. From 56:06-1:04:30, we’ll take a deep dive into the research of one of the DLC’s staff scientists, Marina Blanco, Ph.D., who studies hibernation in fat-tailed dwarf lemurs at the DLC and in Madagascar. Dr. Blanco’s research illustrates how non-invasively studying lemurs can help not only the lemurs themselves, but have major implications for human health and technology—including insights on aging, diabetes, obesity, and even space travel and deep hibernation.
The DLC’s veterinarians are recognized as world leaders in lemur veterinary medicine. From 1:04:31-1:11:38, we’ll meet long-time DLC veterinarian Cathy Williams, D.V.M., who explains how the Lemur Center’s large size and long history has enabled us to study lemurs and develop veterinary and husbandry protocols better than anywhere else on Earth. She also discusses the Lemur Center’s commitment to training Malagasy veterinarians, both in Madagascar and by funding internships at the DLC; and we’ll meet three veterinarians who traveled from Madagascar to the Lemur Center to study lemur medicine: Fidy Rasambainarivo, D.V.M., Ph.D.; Tsiky Rajaonarivell, D.V.M.; and Elodi Rambeloson, D.V.M.
Lastly, we journey to the DLC’s Division of Fossil Primates (1:11:39-1:15:25). Here, paleontologist Matthew Borths, Ph.D. discusses the Lemur Center’s 35,000 fossil and subfossil specimens—including one of his favorites, the “Crystal Skull”—and how the fossil record can yield insights crucial for lemur conservation today, including that of the critically endangered greater bamboo lemur. The Duke Lemur Center is unique in that it hosts paleontologists, primatologists, veterinarians, and conservation biologists all working under the same roof. With such a complete perspective on lemur biology, we work to understand extinctions of the past so we can prevent extinctions in the future—a mission perfectly preserved in the Crystal Skull.
Part VI: Inspiration and Impact
Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum famously said, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. And we will understand only what we are taught.” In this final section, we discuss the value of art in service to conservation, including how the Lemur Center has partnered with artists from around the world—including filmmaker Martin Kratt; National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, of Photo Ark fame; Kimio Honda, studio manager for the Wildlife Conservation Society; and visual artists Rachel Hudson, Cat Smith, and Julie K.—to help people connect emotionally to these amazing, endangered animals. Indeed, the more languages we use to spread the message of conservation, the more potential there is for it to be heard.