Patricia Wright’s path to becoming a primatologist is anything but typical. It all started 50 years ago when she was working as a social worker. She was simply trying to find a solution for her owl monkey that would get upset when she and her husband went out at night leaving the nocturnal creature home alone.
“This was the 60’s with lots of great performers like Jimi Hendrix. It was either stay home every night and miss some great concerts or find him a friend,” said Wright.
Her first trip to South America to find her owl monkey a friend opened her world to the study of primates. After that, there was no monkeying around — she was hooked.
Her studies may have started with owl monkeys, but Wright is best known for her work with lemurs. Wright, director at the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments at Stony Brook University and founder of the Centre ValBio in Madagascar, has worked to transform Madagascar’s park system and has championed the survival of the nation’s most famous animals – the lemurs. This is why Wright was selected as one of the six 2012 Indianapolis Prize finalists.
“Madagascar is a place so special, with so many unique species, that it feels like another world. But it is one in the gravest peril, with so many species on the edge of oblivion and one woman stands out as its savior – Pat Wright,” said Stuart Pimm, conservation ecology professor at Duke University.
Nearly all of Madagascar’s forests have disappeared since mankind’s arrival, and this trend was about to continue when Wright discovered the unknown golden bamboo lemur’s habitat was about to be destroyed in 1986.
She knew local support was crucial, so she spent months visiting communities, building relationships with elders, and collecting data on their needs. She was told if she raised the funds, the government would create a national park in order to save the species, and that’s exactly what she did.
Since that time, Wright has become internationally known as a leading expert on lemurs and landscape conservation in Madagascar.