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(2022 - Spring/Summer Issue)


Deep in the mosquito-infested jungle of Central Borneo a peculiar moment erupts. A gurgling bass tone blasts in the stillness, and amid the foliage-fringed canopy, there’s a silhouetted figure documenting the entire performance.

It’s Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, and she’s doing what she does best.

For the past 50 years, as the world’s foremost authority on orangutans, Dr. Galdikas is credited with having conducted the longest continuous study of wild orangutans in the world.

The Canadian conservationist, scientist, and primatologist along with Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), a non-profit organization she helped establish, have been a leading voice in the plight of this critically endangered species.

For her 50th anniversary, OFI honoured Dr. Galdikas’ first day she made camp in Borneo during last November’s Orangutan Awareness Month, commemorating her pioneering research undertaken at Camp Leakey in Tanjung Puting National Park. Named after the late great paleoanthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey, who funded Dr. Galdikas’ orangutan studies and was her mentor, the camp she established remains a vital conservation refuge for orphaned orangutans. “Visiting Borneo is like going back in time to an existence we once had but no longer have in modern life,” reflected Dr. Galdikas in this exclusive DreamScapes interview.

DS: How did you find yourself on the far side of the world?

BG: When I first went to Southeast Asia in 1971, I didn’t know I would end up studying orangutans in Borneo. All I knew was that I was going to Indonesia with my former husband who received some cameras from National Geographic to document my work. So when I went to the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to get a visa, nobody there knew anything about Borneo. The other problems were transportation and communication networks. We did not know where we were going or where we would end up.

DS: Orangutans are a protected species. Yet their rainforest habitat is being razed for Conflict Palm Oil, a major cause of deforestation. How do you reacclimatize orangutans torn from their families?

BG: It depends on how long it’s been in captivity and the age. Sometimes it takes one day if the animal has just been captured. With an infant, it may take 10 years. Also, you cannot just throw an infant orangutan out to a forest, much like throwing a two- or three-year-old orphan out on the street, telling them to earn a living.

DS: How has ecotourism played a role in getting out your messages?

BG: Ecotourism has helped make people aware of orangutans, and virtually every ecotourist who comes to our Camp Leakey returns. Orangutans have the most mesmerizing effect on people. When these wild animals look at you, it’s as though they’re looking straight into your soul. That is the reason why people keep coming back.

DS: What do you enjoy when you are at home?

BG: I enjoy being in nature, hiking in the forest close to my house in North Vancouver.

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