DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A total of four endangered lemurs have died at the Duke Lemur Center since Tuesday, the school has announced.
Lemur Center officials blamed the primates’ demise on “a mysterious affliction.” The lemurs died while under the care of “two of the world’s foremost lemur veterinarians,” the center said.
“We have experienced a tragedy,” said Lemur Center Director Anne Yoder in a news release. “The staff is devastated.”
The deceased included two lemurs of each sex and ranged in age from 7 to 28. There were five lemurs, of a species called aye-ayes, kept in the same area. The fifth lemur is still alive but remains under observation.
The investigation into the cause of death of the four lemurs is ongoing. Initial examinations of the body didn’t reveal any smoking guns, the center said.
The center also houses nine other aye-ayes, which don’t seem to have been affected. The iconic aye-aye is the species of lemur featured on the Lemur Center’s logo.
The center describes aye-ayes as “cat-sized, gray-black creatures with enormous floppy ears, large round eyes and bushy black tails.”
There are fewer than 50 of the creatures in captivity in the world.
Threats to the aye-ayes range from habitat loss to a traditional belief that they are evil and should be killed on sight. The Lemur Center is a pioneer in the breeding of Aye-Ayes. One of the dead lemurs, Angelique, was the first lemur to be born to parents that had themselves been born in captivity.
The center’s staff is “closely monitoring all 250 lemurs every 30 minutes around the clock for signs of distress,” the news release said.
Public tours are continuing unaffected; they don’t enter the area where the dead animals were living anyway.