Thursday, February 21, 2013

Famed primatologist speaks at ESF

Dr. Patricia Wright
As part of the course requirements for FOR496, students share responsibility for reporting on the WiSE Professions Speaker Series.  The following was prepared by Rose Petersky.

In 1986, Dr. Patricia Wright was looking for the Greater Bamboo Lemur, a species that had been thought to be extinct, in Madagascar, the only area of the world where lemurs are naturally found. Weary? from her extended travel, she decided to stop at a local hotel.   Behind the hotel was a forest.  Within that forest, Dr. Wright not only found the lemur that she sought, but also a new species-- the Golden Bamboo Lemur.   Despite the ecological significance of these finds, she knew that the forest would not be around for much longer without protection. She visited the Madagascar Department of Water and Forests to try to persuade them to make the forest a preserve. Their response was that they would be happy to comply, if they were given the necessary funding. Wright recalled to the audience of about 80 in ESF’s Illick Hall that she “walked out of that office thinking, ‘oh dear’ and then [she] became a conservationist.” Seven years later, Ramonafana National Park was founded.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

Golden Bamboo Lemur
Lemurs are the most threatened mammal in the world. Ninety-one percent of lemur species are on the RED list of endangered and threatened species. They are threatened by deforestation, slash and burn agriculture, erosion, and mining. Since humans arrived in Madagascar 1,500 years ago, 90 percent of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed. Thanks to Dr. Wright, there are 41,600 hectares of tropical forest where 12 species of lemur are protected. In addition to providing this essential habitat, Ramonafana National Park also supports 100 scientific researchers annually and employs 85 full-time staff.

Dr. Wright states with confidence that Ramonafana would not be possible without the support of the local people that cooperated with her from the very beginning. One half of the admission fees from the park go to local villages for municipal projects.   Ramonafana also participates in outreach programs around Madagascar such as hosting a radio station in the park’s recording studio, and an education program that reaches 32 schools and more than 11,000 Malagasy children. In addition,, Ramonafana’s heath team has constructed 230 latrines and installed 30 water pumps in the local area, and provides disaster relief for 3,000 people.   

About Dr. Wright
Considered to be one of the world’s foremost expert on lemurs, Patricia Wright is best known for her 26-year study of social and family interactions of wild lemurs in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar, and for leading the effort to establish this park.   For this work, she holds, among other honors, the prestigious National Medal of Honor of Madagascar.  She is the founder of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (ICTE) and Centre ValBio (CVB), and a Professor in the Department of Anthropology, all at Stony Brook University.  Wright has worked extensively on conservation. In the late 1980s she spearheaded an integrated conservation and development project that, in 1991, led to the establishment of Ranomafana National Park.  Wright has received many honors for her conservation work in Madagascar, including the prestigious "Chevalier d’ Ordre National” National Medal of Honor of Madagascar, from the President of Madagascar in 1995. 

About the series
Dr. Wright’s lectureLemur Conservation in Madacasgar:  Updates from Ranomafana National Park   on February 21, 2013 was a joint presentation of the Women in Scientific and Environmental (WiSE) Professions and the Adaptive Peaks Speaker Series.  It was sponsored by the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, ESF Women's Caucus and the Graduate Student Association   For more information about the WiSE Professions Series, please visit .