Madagascan lemur expert Lady Alison Jolly from Lewes dies

Madagascan lemur expert from Lewes dies

Madagascan lemur expert from Lewes dies

First published in News The Argus: Photograph of the Author by

A ground-breaking animal expert who specialised in the lemurs of Madagascar has died aged 76.

Lady Alison Jolly, an American who lived in Lewes for more than 40 years, made her name as the first scientist to carry out an in-depth study of the behaviour of the ring-tailed lemur.

And she was the first to turn the theory that the male lemurs dominate the females on its head.

The primatologist and conservationist began her field work in 1962 and continued her research for more than 40 years, returning to Madagascar for the birthing season every year since 1990.

The naturalist Sir David Attenborough, who knew her as a fellow Honorary Fellow of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, recently wrote that “not only lemurs but the people and land of Madagascar captured her heart”.

After her first work, Lemur Behaviour, was published in 1966, she developed her ideas in two subsequent books.

The Evolution of Primate Behavior was published in1972 and was followed by Lucy’s Legacy: Sex and Intelligence in Human Evolution.

A champion of lemur conservation, she worked in some of the world’s leading universities, including Cambridge and Princeton, and was president of the International Primatological Society. In 2006, a new species of mouse lemur, the tiny Microcebus jollyae, was named after her.

Born in Ithaca in the state of New York, Lady Alison's parents, a professor and an artist, encouraged her to read Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill and stories of old Sussex, and she later said she never dreamt that the magical land of Sussex was real.

She fell in love with Richard Jolly, from Hove, who was studying at Yale in 1960, and they moved to Lewes in 1969 when he took up a job at the Institute of Development Studies at Falmer. They lived in one of the oldest houses in Lewes, where she held Fourth of July blueberry, strawberry and meringue parties.

Locally, she was involved in many organisations, including the opera house Glyndebourne, Grange Gardens, Lewes History Group, Lewes Railway Land Advisory Board and, at the time of her death on February 6, was a senior research fellow at the University of Sussex. Her list of publications includes children's books, including 'The Fiddle Stories', in which a young girl sees transparent people walking around Lewes.

Lady Alison is survived by her husband, an economist, their four children, Margaretta, Susan, Arthur and Richard, and four grandchildren.

Daughter Margaretta and son-in-law Nick Fairclough said: “Many knew Alison as a tall and witty American with brightly coloured jackets, sneakers and gentle lilt, but not all knew about her ground-breaking achievements in science and conservation.”

The family will hold a memorial service in May, and asks for donations to The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.


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