“In July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall traveled from England to what is now Tanzania and bravely entered the little-known world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars. But with her unyielding patience and characteristic optimism, she won the trust of these initially shy creatures, and she managed to open a window into their sometimes strange and often familiar-seeming lives. The public was fascinated and remains so to this day.
“Today, Jane’s work revolves around inspiring action on behalf of endangered species, particularly chimpanzees, and encouraging people to do their part to make the world a better place for people, animals, and the environment we all share. The Jane Goodall Institute works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, but recognizes this cannot be accomplished without a comprehensive approach that addresses the needs of local people who are critical to chimpanzee survival.
“Our community-centered conservation programs in Africa include sustainable development projects that engage local people as true partners. These programs began around Gombe in 1994, but they have since been replicated in other parts of the continent. Likewise, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, which Jane started with a group of Tanzania students in 1991, is today the Institute’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program for young people from preschool through university with nearly 150,000 members in more than 130 countries.”
Dian Fossey was an American zoologist, primatologist, and anthropologist who undertook an extensive study of mountain gorilla groups over a period of 18 years. Read more >>
SCIENTIST AT WORK/Birute Galdikas; Saving the Orangutan, Preserving Paradise
By CLAUDIA DREIFUS (Published: March 21, 2000 NYT)
Of the three young women recruited in the 1960’s by the paleontologist Louis Leakey to study great apes, Dr. Birute Galdikas, now 53, is the least known. Dr. Leakey’s first disciple, Dr. Jane Goodall, who discovered that chimpanzees made tools, has become an international scientific celebrity, and Dr. Dian Fossey, who lived among the gorillas of Rwanda and was killed there in 1985, was played by Sigourney Weaver in the movie ”Gorillas in the Mist.”
But the story of Dr. Galdikas, who quietly devoted herself to the study and preservation of the Indonesian orangutan, remains largely unknown.
”That’s because I have a name nobody can pronounce and because I’ve been in Borneo all these years, tracking an elusive and solitary animal,” Dr. Galdikas, whose name is Lithuanian (pronounced bi-ROO-tay GALD-i-kus), said on a recent morning. She had come to New York for several days to take the middle of her three children, Jane Galdikas, 15, to museums and the theater.
Dr. Galdikas also is giving a lecture at 7 p.m. next Tuesday at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Still a resident of Borneo, Dr. Galdikas recently became an Indonesian citizen because ”the orangutans are Indonesian and because someone in the government suggested it would be helpful.”
But she flies regularly to North America to teach at Simon Fraser University in Canada and to oversee her charity, the Orangutan Foundation International of Los Angeles.
Q. Give us a report on the state of the world’s orangutans?
A. They are poised on the edge of extinction. It’s that simple. We’re still seeing orangutans in the forest; they are coming into captivity in enormous numbers. You just know that there can’t be that many left in the wild.
Q. How did the orangutans come to be so threatened?
A. The main factor was that until 1988, Indonesia had a forestry minister who was a real forester. In 1988, he was replaced by a forestry minister who was an agriculturist, a promoter of plantations. That signaled a shift in government policy from selective logging to clear-cutting of the forest. For orangutans, clear-cutting is a policy of extinction. If you selectively log, some animals will survive. But with clear-cutting, the habitat is gone. If that weren’t enough, in 1997, there were these horrendous fires that devastated the forests.
Moreover, the last three years have been a period of intense political upheaval: an economic crisis, ethnic strife, student riots, President Suharto’s resignation. After President Suharto stepped down in 1998, there was a vacuum of power in the center. Once people in the provinces understood that, some felt they could do whatever they wanted. And what some of them wanted to do was log the forest. So throughout Indonesia, places that had, more or less, been protected, became besieged.
At first, only local loggers came in. When nobody stopped them, the bigger commercial loggers followed. Suddenly, there were no more protected parks.
Q. Is this true too in Kalimantan, Borneo, where you have your research station?
A. Yes, though in the National Park where I work, we’re doing what we can. We’re trying to set up patrols of local men to go out with park rangers so that when they come across illegal loggers, they don’t feel totally intimidated. We’re working with the Indonesian government to set up new wildlife reserves at expired logging concessions. And of course, we’re doing what we always have: saving wild-born orangutans who’ve been captured by humans.
We have a hospital for 130 orangutans. We have an orphanage for the babies. Eventually, they are released to the wild, though with the fast-disappearing habitat, it’s always tough to find a safe place for them.
Q. Tell us what you’ve learned about orangutans in the nearly 30 years you’ve been studying them?
A. Well, we’ve gotten a picture of a very long-lived primate who probably lives 60 to 70 years in the wild. They use a wide variety of foods in the wild, about 400 different kinds, because food is generally scarce for them. The males come and go. They’re very, very competitive. Probably very few males are successful at actually impregnating females. And the females seem to get pregnant about once every eight years. Also, they’re very smart. When orangutans have interactions with humans, they use tools at an incredibly rapid pace.
Q. Based on what you’ve seen, do you believe that orangutans can learn language?
A. I think orangutans can learn how to use language at the level of a 3-year-old child. I had a student in 1978, Gary Shapiro, who came to Camp Leakey and he taught an adult female, Rinnie, sign language. He could not believe how fast she learned it. Rinnie took the tutoring personally. One day, Rinnie took Gary by the hand and tried to seduce him. Gary pushed her away. She thereafter lost all interest in signing. Interestingly, my son, Binti, who was then 2, picked up signing from watching Gary and Rinnie together — though Binti thought that you could communicate with all orangutans through signs. For a while, he went around and signed with all the animals, even those who’d never been taught sign language.
Q. Did Binti speak orangutan?
A. He could interpret what they meant. He moved it and he felt it. His whole body posture would be like an orangutan.
Q. Did Binti identify as an orangutan?
A. It was heading in that direction. A friend, a psychiatrist came to Camp Leakey in 1979 when Binti was 3 and said, ”You know, you should get him out of here. He really needs to be with kids his own age and to go to pre-school.” I knew that Jane Goodall’s son, Grub, had been through something similar and they sent him to boarding school. So I sent Binti to live with my ex-husband, his father, Rod Brindamour, in Canada. Letting Binti go with his dad was very, very hard. But he had no people his own age and size at Camp Leakey. All he had were orangutans and gibbons. Binti’s first friend was a gibbon and she really liked him. This was when he was a baby in a crib.
In fact, Binti, right now is in Indonesia, working as a volunteer. He’s 23 and doesn’t want to do this work professionally, but he does want to help. None of my other kids — Jane, 15, and Fred, 17 — want to do this, either. They see how hard it is.
Q. How did you meet your second husband and the father of your two younger children, a Dyak named Pak Bohap?
A. He worked at Camp Leakey. The first time I laid eyes on him, I saw him in profile, and it was like I was punched in the stomach. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He was such a handsome man. I was driving and I almost went into a ditch. I was married at the time. After that, I avoided him. I just didn’t want to go close.
Q. How were you able to transcend the barriers of race and culture to make a marriage with a Dyak?
A. It was possible because the Dyak are probably the most egalitarian people on the planet in the ways of men and women. This is what an anthropologist told me long before I married Pak Bohap. The astonishing thing to me is how comfortable we are. And the fact that we come from different religions and world views, actually keeps the marriage fresh and interesting.
Q. Are you still together?
A. Oh yes. He hates it that I travel so much.
Q. What’s your take on this revival of Darwinism in the social sciences?
A. I don’t like the misuses of it. The interaction between environment and genes is so complicated that to use genetic arguments, one has to be careful. Like the recent thing about rape now — where people are saying that human rape is not about violence, it’s about sex, it’s just a reproductive strategy — that’s baloney. Maybe it is about reproductive tactics, but it’s also about social control.
Q. Orangutans rape, don’t they?
A. In Orangutans, rape is about sex. That’s all it is. I mean, they don’t beat up the female. They don’t kill her. Once it’s over with, it’s over with. Most orangutans that are raped are of childbearing age. With humans you have 90-year-old nuns and 3-year-old girls getting raped. So, there’s something other than sex going on with humans.
Q. Getting back to orangutans, when you see what is happening to the animals you’ve spent your life studying, what do you feel?
A. I feel like I’m viewing an animal holocaust and holocaust is not a word I use lightly. The machine of extinction is grinding away. The destruction of the tropical rain forest in Borneo is accelerating daily. The consequences of this destruction for the orangutans will be final. And if orangutans go extinct in the wild, paradise is gone. And we’ll never have it again.
Photo: Dr. Birute Galdikas in an Indonesian forest with Schwarzy, whom she rescued from captivity. Her goal: saving the orangutans from extinction. (Aurelija Mituziene)