Biruté Galdikas

Global Perspectives Guest Speaker

Scientist, conservationist, educator, and primatologist: for over four decades Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas has studied and worked closely with the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo in their natural habitat, and is today the world’s foremost authority on the orangutan.

 

Born in Germany in 1946, Galdikas spent her childhood in Canada. Her family ultimately moved to the United States, where Galdikas studied anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a graduate student, she became inspired by the work of Dr. Louis Leakey, an anthropologist from Kenya who studied primates to learn more about human behavior. Leakey was already in the process of helping two other young women researchers study chimpanzee and mountain gorillas, Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, and Galdikas was eager to join the class. She lobbied Leakey to help her establish a study of orangutans, the great red apes of Sumatra and Borneo. Although Dr. Leakey seemed disinterested at first, Galdikas persuaded him of her passion. After three years, Dr. Leakey finally found the funding for Galdikas’ orangutan studies, as he had previously done with both Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey for their respective studies on chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. In 1971, Galdikas and her then husband, Rod Brindamour, arrived in one of the world’s last wild places, Tanjung Puting Reserve in Indonesian Borneo. There were no telephones, roads, electricity, television, or regular mail service at that time. Before she left the U.S., she was told by her professors and others that it “couldn’t be done”; she wouldn’t be able to study orangutans in the wild. They were too elusive and wary, living almost entirely in deep swamps. Before long, however, her hard work and determination had paid off. She set up “Camp Leakey,” named after her mentor and began documenting the ecology and behavior of the wild orangutans. Four years later, she wrote the cover article for National Geographic magazine, bringing orangutans widespread international public attention for the first time.

As President and founder of Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas has studied orangutans longer than any other person in human history and has worked ceaselessly to save orangutans and forests, and to bring orangutans and their plight to the attention of the world.

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