If you love animal documentaries, then you will be excited to see the new IMAX movie about wild lemurs living in Madagascar. It’s called Island of Lemurs: Madagascar (rated G). We got to ask some questions of Dr. Patricia Wright, the primatologist who studies the lemurs in the film. Read on to learn more about lemurs and what it is like to work with them in the wild.
Q: Are lemurs endangered?
Dr. Wright: 94% of lemurs are critically endangered, endangered, or threatened. They are endangered because they only live on Madagascar and over 90% of Madagascar’s forests have been burned.
Q: What is it like to work with wild and untamed animals?
Dr. Wright: Wonderful! I love to watch wild animals and observe them playing and grooming and sometimes fighting in the wild.
Q: When did you know you wanted to do what you do?
Dr. Wright: Since I was about five I knew I loved animals. I had lots of pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, turtles, rabbits, and even a white rat. I was a Biology major in college, but I was out of college and working as a social worker when I became interested in monkeys and monkey behavior. When I was 20 years old, I fell in love with a pet monkey, and I wanted to know what this kind of monkey did in the wild. That was a long time ago, and I would NEVER buy a monkey now. But all of you should try to see them in the wild.
Q: Why did you choose to work with lemurs?
Dr. Wright: I began my studies with monkeys in South America and I loved working with them, but when I went to Madagascar and saw how beautiful and funny lemurs were, and I saw all the different kinds, I fell in love with them. Knowing they are so endangered, I want to work every day to help them to survive.
Q: What was the hardest moment in your whole career?
Dr. Wright: The day the loggers came into the forest where I was studying the new species of lemur, and they started to cut down all the big trees where my lemurs lived. I was afraid that the forest would be gone. The golden bamboo lemur was only found in this forest and if the forest was gone, they would go extinct. It was very discouraging when the powerful loggers began to cut down the forest. But if I quit, the lemurs might be extinct today.
Q: Were you scared to work with untamed animals at first?
Dr. Wright: No, I wasn’t scared, but they were scared of me and ran away. I had to gain their trust in order for them to let me follow them.
Q: Do the lemurs have opposable thumbs?
Dr. Wright: Yes. Sometimes they hold branches, and sometimes fruits. They can grab things.
Q: What are some lemur instincts that are similar to human instincts?
Dr. Wright: Lemurs have pretty much the same instincts as people. Most lemurs live in family groups or communities and love to play and sit together and snuggle, and climb up in the trees and hang like human kids. Lemurs are sad if someone in their group is lost and are happy when their friend returns. Lemurs get angry if another lemur steals their food.
Q: Can lemurs be tame enough that they act like pets?
Dr. Wright: Sometimes when I am following my lemurs in the wild they are very close to me. But if I get closer than two feet to them, they move away. They don’t let me touch them. But in the wild with other group members, they will play-wrestle and play tag like kittens, sometimes very close to me.
Q: There are always dangers working with animals. What are some you have experienced?
Dr. Wright: Walking around the jungle at night has lots of dangers. When I was in South America, the jaguar and the poisonous snakes had to be avoided. Luckily in Madagascar, the fossa, which is a fierce carnivore that eats lemurs, is too small to attack humans.
Q: What is the most AMAZING incident that ever happened to you while you were working?
Dr. Wright: There are many. Once in the Amazon jungle on a rainy night, I came face-to face with a jaguar. We were both startled. After about five minutes of staring at each other, he jumped away. I was really scared. Once I found a tarantula hiding inside my shirt before I put it on. It didn’t bite me and I shook it off my shirt and let it go its own way. Once early in the morning on a May day, I witnessed the birth of a baby sifaka.
Q: Do you have any tips for kids who want to do what you do?
Dr. Wright: Kids should begin to study rainforests and all the animals inside them as early as possible. Now, kids can get onto the web and join some online groups to participate in active conservation. It’s never too young to start learning about these wonderful animals and getting involved. You can collect school supplies and raise funds for your favorite project.
As soon as you are in high school you should contact the researchers or Earthwatch Institute and volunteer to help out. Volunteering to help leads to real jobs when you work hard! I love my job of studying lemurs and protecting rain forest, but I had to work hard and it was not easy!
This blog post is sponsored by IMAX Island of Lemurs: Madagascar.