DURHAM, N.C. -- Madagascar is more than just a funny animated film starring the voices of Ben Stiller and Chris Rock.
It’s a real place – and island off the east coast of Africa – with very real and interesting species calling it home, including lemurs.
There are about a hundred different types of lemurs and if you’re interested in seeing them, you don’t need to go far. They’re just up the road in Durham and the Duke Lemur Center.
“We definitely have the most diverse species of lemurs, we have 14 different species living here which is more than any living here outside of, of course, Madagascar,” says spokesperson Megan McGrath.
They have more than 210 lemurs in all and breed about 20 or so each year.
All of that, of course, takes money.
“About half of the funding comes from Duke,” says McGrath. “About $2.5 million every year comes through our own fundraising, through donations, seeking grant funding and that wonderful tour programs and merchandising.”
But just because they have tours doesn’t mean they’re a zoo – they’re not. And they often get far more people simply showing up hoping to see the animals than they can handle.
“We weren't designed for visitors,” says McGrath. “We have a wonderful tour program. We do a very good job with it but we are limited on how many people can come through. It takes people aback sometimes to learn we have reservations, we aren't open just generally for people to come through.”
They are attracting attention – and money – through a new promotion voiced by a famous comedian and Monty Python alumnus John Cleese.
He is a bit before Megan McGrath’s time, but, “My generation was raised by a generation that loved John so I grew up watching Fawlty Towers,” says McGrath about the show Cleese did in the 1970s, shortly after Python’s run ended on the BBC.
Cleese had a career in science as a psychologist after his comedy days. And he always had a love for nature and its creatures.
“He did a film it was called "Fierce Creatures" and it was a comedy set in kind of a zoological world and he fell in love with lemurs from that film,” says McGrath. “So, he did a documentary in Madagascar. He researched even more and found our conservation coordinator many years ago, Charlie Welch, and he was in Madagascar and they connected and bonded over that mutual interest of saving lemurs and he has been out to visit a few times since then and comes out to support us.”
See the animals at the NC Lemur Center in this edition of the Buckley Report.