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|Birutė Marija Filomena Galdikas|
10 May 1946 |
|Known for||Study of orangutans, conservation|
|Notable awards||Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (1997)|
Birutė Marija Filomena Galdikas, OC (born 10 May 1946), is a primatologist, conservationist, ethologist, and author of several books relating to the endangered orangutan, particularly the Bornean orangutan. Well known in the field of modern primatology, Galdikas is recognized as a leading authority on orangutans. Prior to her field study of orangutans, scientists knew little about the species.
In college she studied psychology and biology. In 1966, Galdikas earned her bachelor's degrees in psychology and zoology, jointly awarded by the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Los Angeles, her master's degree in anthropology from UCLA in 1969 and her doctorate in anthropology, also from UCLA, in 1978. It was there, as a graduate student, she first met famed Kenyan paleontologist Louis Leakey and expressed her desire to study orangutans in their natural habitats.
The orangutan is an intelligent great ape native to Indonesia and Malaysia, which has long arms and reddish, sometimes brown, hair. Determined to study and understand the world of the elusive "red ape", Galdikas convinced Leakey to help orchestrate her endeavor, despite his initial reservations. 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. Galdikas thus become the third of a trio of women hand-picked by Leakey to study mankind's nearest relatives, the other great apes, in their natural habitat. Sometimes referred to as "The Trimates" or "Leakey's Angels", the other two were Jane Goodall, who studied chimpanzees, and Dian Fossey, who studied mountain gorillas. Leakey and the National Geographic Society helped Galdikas initially set up her research camp to conduct field study on orangutans in Borneo. Before Leakey's fortuitous decision to anoint Galdikas as the third of his "Angels", the orangutan was much less understood than the African great apes. Galdikas went on to further burnish Leakey's legacy by greatly expanding scientific knowledge of orangutan behavior, habitat and diet.
At 25, Galdikas arrived in Borneo to begin her field studies of orangutans in a jungle environment extremely inhospitable to most Westerners. Galdikas proceeded to make many invaluable contributions to the scientific understanding of Indonesia's biodiversity and the rainforest as a whole, while also bringing the orangutan to the attention of the rest of the world.
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 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, palm oil plantations, gold miners, and unnatural conflagrations.
Galdikas's 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 illegal pets, before becoming too smart and difficult for their owners to handle. Galdikas's rehabilitation efforts through Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) also include the preservation of rainforest. Although one Canadian author in the late 1990s was critical of the rehabilitation methods, the ongoing birth of new orangutans among the formerly-rehabilitated adult orangutans at Camp Leakey is part of what makes it the longest continual study of a single species. The value of Dr. Galdikas's work has been acknowledged in television shows hosted by Steve Irwin as well as Jeff Corwin on Animal Planet. In addition, the importance of Dr. Galdikas's concern and work towards preserving Indonesian rain forest has been reinforced by the biofuel article of January 25, 2007, in The New York Times and the November 2008 article in National Geographic magazine, "Borneo's Moment of Truth." Galdikas's organization, O.F.I., is also involved in a reforestation project, planting native trees in previously destroyed areas of rain forest.
While campaigning actively on behalf of primate conservation and preservation of rain forest, Galdikas continues her field research, among the lengthiest continuous studies of a mammal ever conducted. Her husband, Pak Bohap, was 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.
Dr. Galdikas is currently a professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, and Professor Extraordinaire at Universitas Nasional in Jakarta, Indonesia. She is also president of the Orangutan Foundation International in Los Angeles, California.
Galdikas, along with fellow "Angel" Jane Goodall and preeminent field biologist George Schaller, became a recipient of the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 1997 for her groundbreaking field research and lifetime contributions to the advancement of environmental science.
Other honors bestowed upon Galdikas include the Indonesia’s Hero for the Earth Award (Kalpataru), Institute of Human Origins Science Award Officer, United Nations Global 500 Award (1993), Elizabeth II Commemorative Medal, the Eddie Bauer Hero of the Earth (1991), PETA Humanitarian Award (1990), and the Sierra Club Chico Mendes Award (1992).
In 1995, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In addition, Dr. Galdikas was awarded a key to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2009 when she gave a presentation for the Anthropology Department at U.N.L.V.
Galdikas was criticised in the late 1990s regarding her methods of rehabilitation. Primatologists debated the issue on the Internet mailing list Primate-Talk; the issue was further fuelled by the publication of articles in Outside magazine (May 1998) and Newsweek (June 1998). As reported in both articles and summarised in the 1999 book The Follow by Canadian novelist Linda Spalding, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry - with whom Galdikas had clashed over logging policies - claimed that Galdikas held "a very large number of illegal orangutans ... in very poor conditions" at her Indonesian home, prompting the government to consider formal charges. Galdikas denied all such claims in a response to Newsweek in June 1999, remarking that allegations of mistreatment were "simply, wrong" and that the "outlandish" claims formed the basis of "a totally one-sided campaign against me."
Galdikas stars in the feature documentary Born to Be Wild 3D, released in April 2011. She has also appeared in the documentaries Nature (TV series documentary, 2005), Life and Times (TV series documentary, 1996), 30 Years of National Geographic Specials (TV documentary, 1995), Orangutans: Grasping the Last Branch (documentary, 1989), and The Last Trimate (TV documentary, 2008).