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Long Island's Patricia Wright, star of 'Island of Lemurs,' talks to Kidsday

Kidsday reporters Hamza Yousaf, Catlyn Knauer, Zoey Wickman

Kidsday reporters Hamza Yousaf, Catlyn Knauer, Zoey Wickman and Samuel Mindlin, all from Hawkins Path Elementary School in Selden, interviewed Dr. Patricia Wright. Dr. Wright is an expert on lemurs and the wildlife of Madagascar. Credit: Newsday / Pat Mullooly

We had the opportunity to view a screening of "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar," recently with the entire fourth-grade class of Hawkins Path Elementary School in Selden at the AMC Loews in Stony Brook.

It was a great morning for us because we were able to see this amazing documentary about lemurs and the importance of protecting the only place they live, the island of Madagascar. The documentary was narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Patricia Wright, a professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University, traveled to Madagascar and discovered that lemurs were in trouble. She worked to create a habitat to protect them. This area is now home to more than 12 species of lemurs.

Wright continues to work with and learn about lemurs in Madagascar, and she has places set up for scientists to come and study there, too.

This documentary is in 3-D, which makes you feel like you are actually in the rain forest with the lemurs. You get to see the lemurs up close and experience them right in front of you. This movie took two years to create. We highly recommend it to children and people of all ages.

After we watched it, we all wanted to visit Madagascar. We think you will, too. Before the film started, we met with Wright and read her bio. She is considered one of the leading experts on lemurs today. She has been studying lemurs for 28 years.

Here are some of the questions we asked her:

What do you think is the target audience for this movie?

Well, I'm not sure what our target audience is. I hope you'll like it. It will be for children, and I hope everybody will like it. Both children and adults. I think you're going to like it a lot.

What inspired you to study lemurs?

Well, they were absolutely beautiful, and they did some very interesting things. I wanted to find out why they did these interesting things. Like some of them were eating bamboo that was filled with cyanide. I mean cyanide is poison. How come they could eat it? And some of them were getting really old in the wild. I thought that animals didn't live long in the wild, but some of these animals do. And I was really interested when I saw them jump. I wondered why they could jump so far. So I had lots and lots of questions about their behaviors or what their family life was like and why they're so different. And we still don't have enough information about them. You should come help us study them, too.

What did you think when you first saw a lemur?

I was so amazed that first day I saw a lemur. I couldn't believe they were so beautiful and furry, and he looked at me and I looked at him and neither of us knew what we were looking at. He made some sounds and then he ran away. But it was fun that first day.

Do the different species of lemurs have different personalities?

Oh yes. It's amazing how they have such different personalities. Some of them are stubborn, some of them are whiners, some of them are fighters. It's just amazing they have all the same sorts of personalities that we do and everyone is different. And it's fun and that's what makes it fun to watch them.

We read that you saved a few species of lemurs in Madagascar. How does that make you feel?

It makes me feel very good, because I love lemurs. I'm always worried about them, and the fact that we have 12 species in the rain forest is really wonderful because our rain forest is protected now.

Do all the lemurs get along?

No. It depends. Sometimes they fight over food. If there's lots and lots of food, they don't fight. But if there's just a little bit of food then they will fight over it. In a group you have a female who is the leader, so the leading female, she gets the food that she wants. Her kids get all the food that they want. Sometimes the males, the dads, they have to wait until all the females eat. They try not to fight, they just wait. Sometimes there's fights between groups. Mostly lemurs are very peaceful and calm and wonderful animals.

Are lemurs friendly to humans?

It depends. In general lemurs are friendly to humans, but if there's hunting then they would run away. I taught people from the very beginning -- don't kill lemurs. Lemurs are very important to you because there will be people to come and look at the lemurs and when they come to look at the lemurs you can get a job showing them the lemurs. Or you get a job at the hotels where people stay. Or you can get a job as a cook, or a park ranger to protect the lemurs. And sure enough, there's all these jobs now in that region. So that's what people do in that region. So they don't hunt them anymore, because that wouldn't be good for the lemurs.

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