In total darkness in the dripping rain forest of Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park, the accomplished primatologist Patricia Chapple Wright skipped along a rough trail she’d prepared for jungle-newbies to explore the nocturnal world of lemurs, frogs, and many other species both new and strange. Pat was completely at home in the forbidding wilderness.
Now during the Ranomafana night walk, most of the hikers battled to find our footing along the muddy path, desperate to make it back safely to our cabins without tripping, but not Pat. She scampered up and down the trail, shining her flashlight into the trees, pointing out amphibians, reptiles and other denizens of the dark forest.
Patricia Chapple Wright has a new book out, High Noon Over the Amazon, that explains how it is that she is so comfortable not only in a forest, but how she gets around so easily in that forest at night. She spent her early career as a primatologist learning to track and understand the elusive owl monkey (Aotus) deep in the back jungle of Amazonian Peru. Most of that work had to be done in the dark, when the owl monkey is out and about.
Pat became a pioneer of tracking the monkeys at night, following them on the ground as they traversed their arboreal byways from sleep trees to various feeding grounds. It’s not a job for the faint-of-heart, as she quickly discovered when she encountered a deadly nocturnal snake dangling from a bough in her path, causing her to tumble in fright down an embankment and become hopelessly lost. But through sheer persistence Pat perfected the technique, becoming the first researcher to describe wild owl monkey behavior not previously documented. She also became adept at moving around the most impenetrable jungle in the dark.
Pat Wright is a highly respected scientist, a distinguished member of National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE), and the discoverer of the golden bamboo lemur. People at National Geographic spoke of her in reverential tones, comparing her work with lemurs to the chimpanzee work of Jane Goodall and the gorilla work of Dian Fossey.
Pat’s stories of her career in her new book are delightful. It’s a page-turner of a yarn, from the moment she meets her first owl monkey in a New York pet shop and has an impulse to acquire one as a pet. This love-at-first-sight encounter with the charismatic primate takes Pat and her young daughter to a remote research station in Peru where she slowly uncovers the secrets of the monkeys of the night.
Happy Monkday :_)