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Patricia Chapple Wright, PhD is an accomplished American primatologist, anthropologist, and conservationist. Wright is best known for her 27-year study of social and family interactions of wild lemurs in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. She is the founder of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (ICTE) and Centre ValBio (CVB). 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.
Patricia Wright was born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, on September 10, 1944 to Julia Delores, a school librarian and Hugh Edward Chapple, a foundry supervisor. She was raised in Lyndonville, New York, and has five siblings.
Wright obtained a Bachelor's degree in Biology in 1966 from Hood College. Her first job was in Boston at Harvard Medical School as a lab technician. Next, she worked for the Department of Social Services as a caseworker in New York City, quitting her job to be a mother and housewife. In the 1960s she bought an owl monkey from a New York pet store in the village. To learn more about their father care system, she and her family traveled to Peru to see the owl monkeys in their native habitat. Her enthusiasm sent her back to school to become a primatologist. She later went on to obtain her Ph.D. in Anthropology from City University of New York in 1985 under the direction of Dr. Warren Kinzey.
Wright has been married twice. She and her first husband, James A. Wright, an artist, had a daughter, Amanda Wright. They divorced in 1980. In 1993 she married Jukka Jernvall, a Finnish evolutionary biologist. Wright and Jernvall separated in 2009. They have no children together. Wright has two grandchildren.
In 1986 primatologist Dr. Wright traveled to Madagascar in search of the Greater Bamboo Lemur, a species abundant at the subfossil lemur sites of the north but believed to have gone extinct in the recent past. After searching in all of the southeastern forests where sightings had been recorded decades before, Wright and her team focused the search on the forests of Ranomafana because of the extensive stands of giant bamboo that were observed there. Wright had a hunch that if a bamboo lemur could be found anywhere, it would probably be where its main dietary need was plentiful. The hunch proved fruitful when not only was the Greater Bamboo Lemur rediscovered but one that had not been known to exist was also found. The new species was named Hapalemur aureus, the Golden Bamboo Lemur.
Not long after research on the newly discovered populations of bamboo lemurs began, Wright learned that local villagers had been hired by timber exploiters to harvest the larger trees. Wright's guide told her that a man could earn one dollar for every canopy tree he could cut and carry on his shoulder to the road. Chopping trees was the best way for a person to make money. Patricia knew that this would certainly mark the end for the lemurs and action needed to be taken. Patricia traveled 2 days to get to Madagascar's capital city Antananarivo to discuss the problem with the Department of Water and Forest. The man who sat behind a padded bullet-proof door and huge desk listened to her concerns for the habitat of a new species. He agreed that the forest should be protected as a national park but it would take money to delineate boundaries and convince people not to cut down the forest or hunt lemurs; border patrols would need to be hired. The man said he had full confidence that Dr. Wright could find the money. Though the task was daunting, the researcher made the commitment to save the forest but she knew she could not be successful without the help from other people. She began to build relationships with funding organizations as well as the people living in the villages around the forest of Ranomanfana.
Ranomafana National Park
Ranomafana National Park (RNP) was inaugurated on 31 May 1991. The 43,500-hectare (107,000-acre) park contains mountainous rainforest and protects 12 species of lemurs, as well as untold species of chameleons, birds, frogs, tenrecs, and carnivores. The protection of its biodiversity depended on the relationships built with the local people. Wright had made seven expeditions to meet with village leaders to ask about what they would need in order to replace the value of the materials they were extracting from the forest. Each leader responded with a similar list: a clinic to replace the medicinal plants, agricultural expertise and fertilizer for farming to replace the slash-and-burn cultivation, schools for their children, and a real soccer ball. It was a giant task to be the leader of a pioneer project melding improvement of village economies with protection of a huge forest filled with unique biodiversity. This would be a conservation project based on science and research, one of the first in Madagascar. In 2007 Ranomafana National Park became part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site Cluster, an international honor, and a tribute to its success.
In 2003, Dr. Wright founded The Centre ValBio (CVB) research campus. A rice field adjacent to Ranomafana National Park was converted into a center for learning and repository of knowledge. CVB was advised and funded by an international consortium of universities. Founding member universities included: Stony Brook University, the University of Antananarivo, the University of Fianarantsoa, and the University of Helsinki. The campus overlooks the Namorona River and has access to the rainforest. The Administration Building houses a kitchen, dining room that seats 64 and doubles as a lecture hall, offices, a research room with library, and laboratory space. Additionally the campus offers an outdoor classroom and a separate storage building. In 2011 CVB became the repository for 25 years of data. Long-term studies include lemur behavior and ecology, plant growth, flowering and fruiting, and climate, as well as surveys of chameleons, lemurs, birds, insects and carnivores. With funding from Conservation International, in 2010, CVB joined the TEAM global network of sites where data are being collected for understanding changes in biodiversity over time. CVB employs a staff of over 80 local residents trained at Centre ValBio as research technicians, office administrators, and data entry clerks. Hundreds of scientists from all over the world base their work at the research station. Nearly 1000 publications have been produced since the establishment of RNP.[clarification needed] The rainforest is also the destination for many undergraduate students who are beginning to seriously consider their careers. CVB supports various study-abroad programs for undergraduates, including a summer and fall semester from Stony Brook University. Many alumni have gone on to graduate programs that incorporate research work started while participating in study abroad in Madagascar.
In July 2012, NamanaBe, a new five level building with modern laboratories, a conference room for 75, a computer training center, beds for 53 and a recording studio was inaugurated. The green roof has a medicinal plant garden, as well as a butterfly garden and solar panels. Centre ValBio links research, education and outreach for the successful preservation of wildlife and forests.
Awards and recognition
Dr. Wright has received many honors for her conservation work in Madagascar. Among many other honors, in 1995, she received the prestigious "Chevalier d' Ordre National" (National Medal of Honor) of Madagascar, from the President of Madagascar. In 1990, she received an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Hood College. In 2001, she was one of only seven scientists profiled in Me & Isaac Newton, an inspiring film directed by Michael Apted, creator of the classic Up Series of films. In 2007, Wright was awarded a "Honoris causa" (honorary degree) by the University of Antananarivo as well as a "Distinguished Primatologist" award from the American Society of Primatologists. In 2008 she was awarded the Hauptman-Woodward Pioneer in Science Award. In 2011 she received the Distinguished Alumnae award from Hood College. Wright also served on the National Geographic Society's Committee of Research and Exploration from 2000-2009 and NGS Conservation Trust from 2001-2010. In 2013 she was elected to the American Philosophical Society.
- 2013 Elected to American Philosophical Society
- 2011–Finalist for the Indianapolis Prize for Conservation
- 2008–Stony Brook University Faculty Achievement Award
- 2008–Hauptman Woodward Pioneer in Science Medal
- 2008–Distinguished Primatologist Award from American Society of Primatologists
- 2007–Awarded Honoris Causa, honorary degree from University of Antananarivo
- 2007–Ranomafana National Park named UNESCO World Heritage Site
- 2006–A new species from Kalambatritra Madagascar named Lepilemur wrighaeti
- 2006–Cosmos Prize Selection Committee, Osaka, Japan
- 2006–Explorers Club Lecture Series
- 2006–2010 Member of Smithsonian Biodiversity Task Force
- 2004–Elected AAAS Fellow
- 2004–"Medaille Officier de Madagascar." High honor awarded by the President of Madagascar
- 2003–"Woman of Distinction" Award, given by Senator Kenneth LaValle
- 2003–Royal Geographical Society Invited Speaker, London, United Kingdom
- 2002–James Watson Presidential Council speaker at Symposium "Human Behavior in the Genomic Age" Cold Spring Harbor, NY
- 2002–National Research Council, The National Academies Committee
- 2001–Provost's Lecture Series, SUNY Stony Brook
- 2001–Honorary Degree from University of Fianarantsoa, Madagascar
- 2000–Present Member of Board of Directors of Comparative and Conservation Biology Foundation
- 2000–"Principal Investigator of the Year." Earthwatch Institute
- 1998–2003 Member of International Society of Primatology Conservation Committee
- 1995–1998 Advisory Board of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
- 1995–"Chevalier d'Ordre National." National Medal of Honor of Madagascar, from the President of Madagascar
- 1995–Women in Science Engineering Annual Award, SUNY
- 1994–present Madagascar Faunal Group, International Board
- 1994–2000 Scientific Advisory Board member of The Douroucouli Foundation
- 1994–present Advisory Board of Primate Conservation Inc.
- 1994–1996 Advisory Board of the Center for Tropical Conservation, Duke University
- 1994–Women of the Year in Science Award, Three Village Times, New York
- 1993–2001 Member of Board, Organization for Tropical Studies
- 1993–1999 Member of Board of Trustees of The Nature Conservancy, Long Island Chapter
- 1993–Women Who Make a Difference Award, Family Circle Magazine
- 1990–present Member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Primatology
- 1991–present Member of External Advisory Board, Duke University Primate Center
- 1991–present IUCN Primate Specialists Group-Madagascar
- 1990–Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Hood College
- 1990–1991 Member of National Research Council Committee for Sustained Development & Environmental Preservation of Humid Tropics
- 1989–John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow
- 1988–1994 Member of Conservation Committee for American Society of Primatologists
- 1984–present IUCN Primate Specialists Group-South America
- 1982–"S.L. Washburn Prize" for outstanding student paper at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists Meeting, Eugene, Oregon
TV & Films
- 2014–Featured in IMAX film Island of Lemurs:Madagascar
- 2010–Featured on NHK Japanese television special on Madagascar and its biodiversity.
- 2009–Featured on Dan Rather Reports, HDNet TV
- 2007–Featured in Wild Nature May, 2007; produced by Rhett Butler
- 2006–Featured in BBC documentary special Looking for Aye-Ayes with Miranda Stevenson
- 2004–Featured in Martin Kratt's National Geographic Be the Creature television series.
- 2002–Featured in David Attenborough's The Life of Mammals documentary film.
- 2001–the television documentary Extinction. Produced by Dan Mogulof, New York Times/Science Times and National Geographic Society.
- 2000–Featured in The Golden Bamboo Lemur, one hour television special; Directed by Satoshi, NHK Japanese television.
- 2000–Me & Isaac Newton, Directed by Michael Apted, a Clear Blue Sky Production; Emmy award winner.
Print & Radio Features
- 2009–10 National Geographic Magazine
- 2009–Interviewed in Angels of the Forest a documentary film on the silky sifaka[clarification needed]
- 2008–09 BBC Natural History Unit (UK) and NHK Japan featured NSF Project
- 2008–Featured in Mongabey.com
- 2008–Featured in Plenty Magazine, February, 2008, "More than the Science"
- 2007–Interviewed on BBC radio on Climate change and lemur reproduction.
- 2006–Featured in Smithsonian Magazine, April cover article "For the Love of Lemurs"
- 2006–Interviewed in Award-winning National Public Radio show Life on Earth, Madagascar Biodiversity produced by Dan Grossman.
- 2005–Natural History Magazine June cover article "Dance of the Sexes"
- 2005–Featured in Long Island Life, Newsday, February 206[clarification needed]
- 2000–Featured in Nova Adventure, On-Line Scientist, Expedition to Marojejy National Park, Madagascar, Peter Tyson, Producer.
- 2000–Profiled in book, The Eighth Continent, by Peter Tyson. Simon-Schuster.
- 1999–Featured in Woman to Woman, Channel One, Television, New York; One-hour interview.
- 1998–Featured in one-hour television show, Wild Things, filmed in Madagascar.
- 1997–Featured in chapter of To the Young Environmentalist: Lives Dedicated to Preserving the Natural World by Linda Leuzzi. Chapter entitled, "Patricia Wright: Rain Forest Savior." Franklin Watts Press.
- 1996–Featured in chapter of The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions, by David Quammen, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
- 1993–Featured in For the Wild Places: Profiles in Conservation, by Janet Trowbridge Bohlen. Chapter entitled "Patricia Chapple Wright: The Creation of a Park." Island Press.
- 2013 High Moon Over the Amazon: My Quest to Understand the Monkeys of the Night published by Lantern Books ISBN 9781590564219
- 2011–Larrey, Frederic; Wright, Patricia C.; Giraud, Cyril. Madagascar: The Forest of Our Ancestors. France: Regard du Vivant Press. ISBN 978-2952996921.
- 2003–Wright, Patricia C.; Simons, Elwyn L.; Gursky, Sharon, eds. (2003). Tarsiers: Past, Present and Future. Piscataway, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813532361.
- Dr. Wright's Official Website
- Interview with Dr. Wright
- Centre ValBio
- Director Sharon Pieczenik's video interview
- PBS special on Wright's sifaka research
- Anthropology Department at Stony Brook
- Interview with Dr. Wright