Birutė Marija Filomena Galdikas
10 May 1946
|Alma mater||University of California, Los Angeles|
|Known for||Study of orangutans, conservation|
|Awards||Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (1997)|
|Fields||Primatology, anthropology, ethology|
|Institutions||Simon Fraser University|
|Thesis||Orangutan adaptation at Tanjung Puting Reserve, Central Borneo (1978)|
Birutė Marija Filomena Galdikas, OC (born 10 May 1946), is a Lithuanian-Canadian anthropologist, primatologist, conservationist, ethologist, and author. She is currently a Professor at Simon Fraser University. Well known in the field of primatology, Galdikas is recognized as a leading authority on orangutans. Prior to her field study of orangutans, scientists knew little about the species.
Galdikas was born on 10 May 1946 in Wiesbaden, Germany. Her parents, Antanas and Filomena Galdikas, were Lithuanian refugees fleeing the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states following World War II. When Galdikas was two years old, the family moved to Canada when her father signed a contract to work in copper mining in Quebec. The following year, they relocated to Toronto, where Galdikas grew up. Her father worked as a miner and a contractor. As a young child, Birutė's head was filled with visions of far off forests and exotic creatures. The first book she borrowed from the Toronto Public Library was a tale about a mischievous little monkey named Curious George. When she grew older, she was swept up by the National Geographic adventures of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. She has two younger brothers and a younger sister.
In 1962 the Galdikas family moved again, first to Vancouver and then to the US. Galdikas enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she studied psychology, archaeology, and anthropology. In 1966, she earned her bachelor's degrees in psychology and zoology, jointly awarded by UCLA and the University of British Columbia. She earned her master's degree in anthropology from UCLA in 1969. During her graduate studies at UCLA, Galdikas met paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, whom she approached about studying orangutans in their natural habitats. Leakey and the National Geographic Society agreed to establish a research facility in Borneo. Her research became the basis of her doctoral studies, and she earned her doctorate in anthropology from UCLA in 1978.
Galdikas pioneered the study of the orangutan, a great ape native to parts of Indonesia and Malaysia. Galdikas convinced Leakey to help orchestrate her endeavor, despite his initial reservations. In 1971, Galdikas and her then-husband, photographer Rod Brindamour, arrived in Tanjung Puting Reserve, in Indonesian Borneo. Galdikas was the third of a trio of women appointed by Leakey to study great apes in their natural habitat. Dubbed by Leakey "The Trimates" the trio also included Jane Goodall, who studied chimpanzees, and Dian Fossey, who studied mountain gorillas.
Leakey and the National Geographic Society helped Galdikas set up her research camp to conduct field study on orangutans in Borneo. Before Leakey's decision to appoint Galdikas, the orangutan was the least understood of the great apes. Galdikas went on to greatly expand 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[who?] 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 rainforest, 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.
In 1995, Galdikas was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Along with fellow Trimate Jane Goodall and preeminent field biologist George Schaller, Galdikas received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 1997 for her groundbreaking field research and lifetime contributions to the advancement of environmental science. Other honors 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). She 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 fueled by the publication of articles in Outside magazine (May 1998) and Newsweek (June 1998). As reported in both articles and summarized 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), Beauty and the beasts (Channel 4 UK documentary, 1996) and The Last Trimate (TV documentary, 2008).