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Scientist Obituary: Dr. Alison Jolly, American Primatologist Proved That Females Rule

Primatologist Dr. Alison Jolly proved that females rule, both in the animal kingdom and in the field of scientific study. Studying lemurs in Madagascar, Dr. Jolly found groundbreaking evidence of female dominance in primates, debunking the assertion that males dominate females in every primate species, including humans. In the words of primatologist Patricia C. Wright, “This was a real surprise to people in the ’60s… female leaders were still so rare. And here comes a woman presenting a model of primates where the females are leaders — effective leaders.”

Dr. Alison Jolly

In Lemur Behavior: A Madagascar Field Study, Dr. Jolly’s study on ring-tailed lemurs, she wrote, “Females have social, spatial and feeding priority over males…all females, whether dominant or subordinate in the female hierarchy, are dominant over male.” According to Dr. Jolly, even the most subordinate females would “at times pounce upon a dominant male and snatch a tamarind pod from his hand, cuffing him over the ear in the process.”

TiktikDr. Jolly fought to protect the lemur population through environmental protection efforts, persuading Madagascar’s government to expand wilderness preserves. She later wrote a series of children’s books in hopes of raising environmental awareness among the country’s youth, chronicling the adventures of Ako, Tik Tik and Bitika, lemurs that confront daily environmental threats. To commemorate her efforts, in 2006, a new species of mouse lemur, the tiny Microcebus jollyae, was named in her honor.

To learn more about Alison Jolly, see her New York Times obituary here.

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Jaime Sunwoo

    Jaime Sunwoo is the digital media intern of the Secret Life Blog. She is currently a senior at Yale University. When she’s in the lab, her secret is that she makes art and when she’s in art class, her secret is that she enjoys science research. Sometimes she combines both interests, making fungal sculptures and botanical drawings. She enjoys learning about scientists and how their varying interests can lead to interdisciplinary work.