Lemur expert, featured in IMAX film, earns prestigious award

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When a crowd gathered at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk April 17 to hear Patricia Wright speak about the lemurs of Madagascar, she and they did not know she was soon headed for a great honor.

Last week, she was named the winner of the 2014 Indianapolis Prize, which is awarded by the Indianapolis Zoo every two years to a person who advances animal conservation initiatives.

Wright, a professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y., is featured in the new IMAX film, “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar,” which is playing at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s IMAX theater. She came to the aquarium to talk about her work and the filming of the movie.

The film tells the story of the island’s lemurs, as well as Wright’s efforts to develop strategies to protect the lemurs’ shrinking habitat and ensure communities may benefit economically.

An expert on lemurs and their habitat, Wright, who was raised in Lyndonville, N.Y., is a professor of biological anthropology. She came to her current work after a career as a social worker. After many trips to Madagascar, she quickly became connected to the island’s lemurs. Her work led to the discovery of a species of lemur that was thought to be extinct and a new species – the golden bamboo lemur.

She established the Ranomafana National Park early on in her career, with 18 other parks having since been established. She works with partners in various communities in Madagascar to develop solutions that protect the environment and provides economic opportunities for the country’s residents.

She will receive $250,000 as part of the prize, along with the Lilly Medal. In a recent news release, she said that she hopes to use part of the money to support protections for a forest north of Ranomafana, which is home to a new species of rare lemur.

Chris Loynd, the aquarium’s marketing director, congratulated Wright on her award in a recent news release. He said if you missed her talk, you still have a chance to see her work on the big screen.

As he noted, in part: “See what one person can do to change the world.”

The showtimes through May 20 are 11 a.m. and 1, 3 and 4 p.m.  Show times May 21-June 30 will be 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m.

Christina Hennessy