An Indianapolis Prize rewards efforts towards the conservation of animals. For those involved in the livelihood of conservation, the Indianapolis Prize is the Pulitzer Prize of the animal world. Those who were chosen to be finalists for the annual prize this year were Patricia Wright, of Stonybrook University; Joel Berger, of the University of Montana; Carl Safina, of the State University of New York at Stonybrook; Russell A. Mittermeier, of Conservation International; Carl Jones, of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust; and Gerardo Ceballus, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Each nominee will receive $10,000 to spend on whatever they or their conservancy sees fit. The winner of the Indianapolis Prize will take home a purse of $25,000 and the Lilly Medal.
Wright established a national park in Madagascar, where she says the local authorities are partnered with the park’s founders and caretakers.Berger created the Path of the Pronghorn, a first in the development of protection for a whole migration corridor. Safina founded the Blue Ocean Institute for the conservation of sea birds and sea life, Mittemeier is into the study of primates and turtles. Jones works to save the Mauritius kestrels, and Ceballos helped people to understand how animals like prairie dogs are integral to the ecosystem and is working with the Mexican government to create a corridor for jaguars.
One candidate, Patricia Wright, has been studying and working with lemurs for almost 29 years and has a particularly interesting story. The Indianapolis Prize would be a reward for conservation that she has been involved with overall for more than 30 years. She says she fell into working with primates when she went to South America in 1978. Wright said she always liked animals and that life is “serendipitous.”
She was studying lemurs in Madagascar when a most fascinating discovery occurred. Wright was the first to identify a new species of lemur, the Golden Bamboo Lemur. As she studied this lemur, Wright found that these lemurs ate bamboo with a high concentration of cyanide. She was fascinated that evolution allowed the lemurs to eat the poison without fatal consequences.
Since her first discoveries, Wright has been involved in the study of aging in lemurs. She says that in the wild they can live for up to thirty years. Wright also knew many years ago, that the protection of lemurs in Madagascar was her top motivation in becoming an avid conservationist. When timber cutters came to the rainforest, she went to the local authorities to plead for the safety of the lemur population. She started a national park there, called Ranomafana. With the help of locals and grants, the park has been a big hit, and for animal lovers, a wonderful sight to visit.
Now, the 106,000 acre park receives visitors, which has benefited the locale with tourism dollars. Tourism dollars then generated more interest in Ranomafana, and in turn the interest has turned into a steady stream of income to support the park.
Wright has the good fortune to be able to spend six months of the year in Madagascar, returning in the winter to teach her students at Stonybrook University. She is teaching Primate Conservation this semester. Wright says it is important not just to read about conservation, but to experience it as well. Graduate students are trained that research is conservation and conservation is research. She still works closely with the park service.
Wright has published a book that is available on Amazon, High Moon Over the Amazon: My Quest to Understand the Monkeys of the Night. It talks about her experiences with owl monkeys in an intimate and interesting fashion.
The Indianapolis Prize rewards those who, like Wright, have dedicated their lives to conservation.
By Lisa M Pickering
Great Falls Tribune
The Wall Street Journal