Saturday, April 09, 2011

Born To Be Wild - in the Borneo jungles and savannahs

A new 3D Imax film opened this weekend and British Columbians should be proudly stampeding towards theatres to see it since it features the life work of Simon Fraser University's Birute Galdikas. The primatologist has spent four decades in Borneo researching and rescuing endangered orangutans. I spent a day with Galdikas several years ago, interviewing her in the bright kitchen she hardly ever sees and then attending a school presentation she gave. My story makes it pretty clear that Galdikas has paid dearly for her passionate work, with numerous personal sacrifices for the sake of saving orangutans.

WHEN THE FIRST LADY of the Jungle talks to Grade 4 children in West Vancouver, she is surprised and elated that they know so much about the forces that are ravaging the rainforests.

They cite as the culprits logging, mines, agriculture, golf courses and greed. And Birute Galdikas, the Simon Fraser University primatology professor who has taught us nearly everything we know about the orang-utan, is impressed.

She tells the children: ``I know a lot of adults with advanced education degrees who don't know as much as you do.''

The students at Ecole Pauline Johnson are impressed, but as it is with children, the 47-year old Galdikas is more awed by them than they are by her.

It's the adults who have labelled her a 21st-century ``bona fide global eco-star.'' Some would like nothing better than to see her fate matched with that of her primate-research predecessor, Dian Fossey, who was murdered in 1985 by poachers in Rwanda after 18 years there studying, defending and protecting gorillas.

Galdikas, who recently left Vancouver, limits her time here to just a third of the year. The rest is spent deep in a forest in Borneo where she been dedicated to the scientific study and preservation of the endangered species of orang-utans.

Next year, she will tell us what she has learned and endured when she publishes her autobiography. A children's photo-essay book by American writer Evelyn Gallardo, titled Among the Orang-utans the Birute Galdikas Story, was published earlier this year.

In addition to serving its instructive purpose, Galdikas's autobiography will undoubtedly be an impassioned plea to conserve the orang-utans' habitat. While Galdikas initially set as her goal the study of orang-utans, she now recognizes that if she is not in Borneo defending them, their habitat will disappear and so will they.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Born To Be Wild - in the Borneo jungles and savannahs

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