Ode to Dr Birute Mary Galdikas

Dr Birute Mary Galdikas is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on orangutans, was winner of the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, is founder of Orangutan Foundation International and is the founder of Camp Leakey.

Dr. Galdikas

Dr. Galdikas with newly confiscated orangutan infant in 2010
Photo source: http://www.orangutan.org/

Oh, and she’s also written several books related to the plight of the orangutan, spent 40 years living in the rainforest, and is responsible for much of the information that scientists now have about the species too.

Remarkable woman, huh?

And I’ve barely even mentioned the work she has done and things she is responsible for. After all, this is not a biography. There are plenty of those about the good doctor and I highly recommend that you start with the bio on her own website, which sums up her work and achievements in one page: http://www.orangutan.org/dr-galdikas-bio. Please read it – I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the words, imagining the incredible life she must lead.

Dr Birute Mary Galdikas and the Trimates

Dr Birute Mary Galdikas is known as one of the Trimates, sometimes known as Leakey’s Angels.

They are three women who worked under Dr. Louis Leakey (in honour of whom Galdikas named Camp Leakey) studying primates in their natural habitat.

“It can’t be done!”

Originally when Dr Birute Mary Galdikas first decided to go to Indonesian Borneo – nothing more than complete wilderness in those times – her mentor, Dr Louis Leakey, was hesitant about funding her expedition and she was told by her professors that she would never be able to get close to orangutans in the wild.

However, she arrived in Tanjung Puting (now Tanjung Puting National Park) in 1971, with her then husband, and they set up camp in the forest.

Living in a hut

When I was in Camp Leakey, our guide Iim (who actually knows Dr Birute Mary Galdikas personally – in fact it seems she is now married to Iim’s uncle!), showed us where the pair had lived during years. It was nothing more than a wooden platform high off the ground with space to tie a couple of hammocks.

Iim also tried to make us understand not just how much of her life she has dedicated to her work and how better off the world is for it, but also what dangerous and unknown conditions she subjected herself to on a daily basis: the threat of crocodiles and other man-eating creatures; the threat of unknown diseases with little or no access to medical supplies; and the threat of the poachers she was working against, to name a few.

We did understand. Well, we didn’t really – how could we? But we could appreciate the gravity of the woman’s situation. We were standing in the middle of the jungle looking at the pitiful hut she had lived in, we had been bitten by the creatures of the forest (and luckily I’m only referring to a few fire ants), we had been affected by the brutal and unpredictable weather changes, and we had seen some of the more sinister beasts of Borneo.

So no, we couldn’t exactly understand, but we were awestruck none-the-less. So, that’s the reason for the ode to this phenomenal woman, Dr Birute Mary Galdikas. That and the fact that we are spending the whole month talking about my experience in the rainforest, and a lot of what I experienced would never have been possible if it hadn’t been for the work of this woman.

So please, while you’re reading about how funny and cute the orangutans are at feeding time, and about our comic escapades in the forest, please have a little thought in the back of your mind about Dr Birute Mary Galdikas who made it all possible.

If you are planning to spend time in Borneo and you would like to meet Dr Birute Mary Galdikas, her foundation is now offering tours in and around Camp Leakey in which she will be your personal naturalist. The information is here.

This is just one post of twenty that make up the Rainforest Blog.
Read the rest of it here.
I would like to remind you that all the photos used on InMyShoesTravel are my own unless otherwise stated.
You can see my whole collection of Travel Photos here.

Filed Under: asiafeaturedIndonesiaKalimantanRainforest

About the Author: Based in Mallorca, obsessed with the world and have a lot to say about both... Step into my shoes and join me on a journey...

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  1. susan sykes says:

    Interesting I have never heard of her,only heard of Daine Fosse because of her work with gorillas and the film gorillas in the mist

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