Renowned anthropologist and primatologist Patricia Wright — Herrnstein Professor of Conservation Biology and Distinguished Service Professor at Stony Brook University and founder and executive director of the Centre ValBio research station in Madagascar — has been named the inaugural recipient of the Conservation Warrior Award.
Established by the Seneca Park Zoo in Monroe County, New York, and coordinated by the Seneca Park Zoo Society, the award was established to honor individuals whose innovation and commitment to conservation have led to lasting, meaningful impact on species survival. This award is also aimed at elevating awareness of the heroic work being undertaken around the world in partnership with the Seneca Park Zoo.
The physical award is a depiction of a tree growing out of rock, and was designed and created by artists at the Corning Museum of Glass. It embodies the resilience, strength and passion the recipient brings to preserving wildlife and wild places. The award also includes an unrestricted operating grant of $20,000, made possible by Claudia and David Weber.
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello issued a proclamation naming December 7 , 2022, as Dr. Patricia Wright day, in which he called upon “citizens to continue to take steps to advance conservation efforts here in our County and around the globe, and to honor and celebrate the incredible work and contributions of Dr. Patricia Wright.”
Zoo Society President and CEO Pamela Reed Sanchez noted the need for conservation heroes in light of recent news headlines. “According to a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund, nearly 70% of all mammal, bird, and fish populations have declined since 1970,” she said. “We need heroes. We need hope. We need warriors.”
Seneca Park Zoo Superintendent Steve Lacy lauded the unique long-standing partnership Seneca Park Zoo has had with Wright and her work in Madagascar, noting there are only a handful of zoos with this kind of relationship of steadfast support over nearly three decades.
In receiving the award, Wright expressed her gratitude for the Zoo involvement and support, spoke of the important role zoos as ambassadors to nature, and called on everyone to join the crusade to save nature. “I’m so glad to be back and to accept this award from a place I really respect,” Wright said. “I am fighting a war, I’m fighting it all the time, but I’m not fighting it alone. I have an army of people to help me including you. I am proud to be your Conservation Warrior.”
After discovering a new species of lemur in 1986, Wright has devoted her life’s work to the conservation of the extraordinary biodiversity endemic to Madagascar. In 1991, she co-founded Ranomafana National Park, protecting 41,500 hectares of rainforest. She is founder and director of the Centre ValBio field station, a state-of-the-art research facility employing more than 80 Malagasy staff and focused on the integration of local people in saving the forest, and thus, the lemurs of the forest.
Her work was highlighted in Island of Lemurs: Madagascar, a motion picture narrated by Morgan Freeman. She is author of five books and more than 200 publications, and recipient of three Medals of Honor from the Malagasy government. Wright’s early years were spent in Rochester, New York, making her the most influential conservationist to come out of the Finger Lakes region.