Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Birute Galdikas, Ph.D. (born 1946, Lithuania) is a primatologist, conservationist, ethologist, and author of several books relating to the endangered species Orangutan. Dr. Galdakis is a Professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, and Professor Extraordinaire at Indonesia's Universitas Nasional in Jakarta. She is also president of the Orangutan Foundation International in Los Angeles, California.
Recognized as the world's leading authority on Orangutans, and a giant in the field of modern primatology, Dr. Galdikas is the third of a remarkable trio of women hand-picked by famed Kenyan paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey to study mankind's nearest relatives, the great apes, in their natural habitats. Known as 'Leakey's Angels', the other two were Jane Goodall, who studied chimpanzees, and Dian Fossey, who became a martyr in her quest to study and protect mountain gorillas. At 25, Dr. Galdikas was sent by Leakey to Borneo to conduct field studies of Orangutans in a jungle environment extremely inhospitable to Westerners.
Orangutans comprise an exceedingly intelligent great ape species native to Malaysia and Indonesia, who have long arms and reddish, sometimes brown, hair. The term Orangutan is derived from the Malay Orang Hutan, meaning 'man of the forest'.
From the age of 5, Galdikas wondered where human beings came from. In college, her love of nature and curiosity about the great apes led her to study psychology and biology. Galdikas earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and zoology in 1966 and her master’s degree in anthropology in 1969 at the University of California, Los Angeles. It was there, as a graduate student, she first met Dr. Leakey and expressed her desire to study Orangutans in their natural habitats. Determined to study and understand the world of the elusive "red ape", Galdikas convinced Leakey to help orchestrate her endeavor, despite his initial reservations. Leakey and the National Geographic Society helped Galdikas intially set up her research camp to conduct field study on Orangutans in Borneo. In 1971, Galdikas and her then husband, photographer Rod Brindamour, arrived in one of the world’s few remaining wild places, Tanjung Puting Reserve in Indonesian Borneo .
When she arrived in Borneo, Galdikas settled into a primitive bark and thatch hut, at a site she dubbed 'Camp Leakey', near the edge of the Java Sea. Once there, she encountered numerous poachers , legions of blood-sucking leeches, and swarms of carnivorous insects . Yet she persevered through many travails, remaining there for over 30 years while becoming an outspoken advocate for Orangutans, and the preservation of their rainforest habitat, which is rapidly being devastated by loggers, gold miners, and unnatural conflagrations. Galdikas' conservation efforts have extended well beyond advocacy, largely focusing on rehabilitation of the many orphaned orangutans turned over to her for care. Many of these orphans were once pets, before becoming too smart and difficult for their owners to handle.
Galdikas continues her field research and campaigns on behalf of primate conservation. Her husband, Pak Bohap, is a Dayak rice farmer, tribal president, and co-director of the Orangutan program in Borneo. She has also written several books, including a memoir, written long after her fellow "angels" published theirs, entitled Reflections of Eden. In it, Galdikas describes her experiences at Camp Leakey and efforts to rehabilitate ex-captive orangutans and release them into the Borneo rainforest.
Those rehabilitation efforts became the center of controversies for Galdikas and the Orangutan Foundation. The effectiveness of rehabilitation spawned widespread debate in the late 1990s, due in part to articles and books about Galdikas by Canadian Linda Spalding. It was suggested wild orangutan populations might be harmed as a result of the manner in which rehabilitation was being conducted.
- Science.co - Biruté Galdikas
- Orangutan.org - Orangutan Foundation International
- OrionSociety.org - Does an Orangutan find freedom in the gift of words? Do we?
- Orangutan Cultures Online Duke.edu - Orangutan Cultures Online
- Asinah.org - Bohorok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center
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