Lemur Vet Plays the Blues

Bobby Schopler cares for endangered primates and plays the harmonica 

Bobby Schopler, staff veterinarian for the Duke Lemur Center, with a silky sifaka, one of the highly endangered species of lemur. Photo courtesy of Bobby Schopler.

Name: Bobby Schopler

Position: Staff veterinarian, Duke Lemur Center

Years at Duke: 7

What I do at Duke: My job is to help keep Duke's colony of about 250 lemurs as healthy as possible and to help researchers gather information about the animals. I'm one part of a larger team that is trying to keep lemurs, an animal naturally found only on the island of Madagascar, from extinction.

How I got my job at Duke: I grew up enthralled with wildlife, studied to be a vet and got a degree in epidemiology with an eye to wildlife and zoo medicine. I had no clue I would ever work with lemurs, but while working with the Piedmont Wildlife Center, I got to know people at the Lemur Center, and now, here I am.

What I love about Duke: The Lemur Center, which offers me the opportunity to affect conservation by increasing public awareness of endangered animals. The lemurs make it easy. They are very appealing and make good ambassadors for the value of wildlife.

My first paid job: I worked at the Vine Veterinary Hospital on East Franklin Street  in Chapel Hill when I was a teenager.

If I had $5 million I would: Find a way to build awareness both locally and globally about ecology and conservation. The human impact on lemurs in Madagascar is obvious because the island environment is unique. If it disappears, so do the lemurs. I want to teach people to view the earth as an island and not take for granted the biodiversity we have in front of us.

A memorable moment for me: The day I confirmed through ultrasound that we had a pregnant mouse lemur. The adult mouse lemur only weighs 2 to 3 ounces, so the fetuses were tiny, but I could see them clearly.

If I could have one superpower it would be: The ability to witness evolution - to travel through time in both directions to see where we came from and where things are headed.

When I am not at work I like to: Make music. My dad gave me a harmonica in ninth grade, and I learned to play the blues in 11th grade when my girlfriend broke up with me. Now I play in a local five-man rhythm and blues band called Too Much Fun.

Something most people don't know about me: I love scuba diving, and my all-time favorite place to dive is around the Galapagos Islands.

Something unique in my office: A beautiful picture drawn by my colleague, Bevan Clark, that shows two lemurs, a deer and a fox sitting at a table politely sipping wine and nibbling biscuits. It is a humorous reminder that we struggle with wildlife in our lemur habitats.