Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Lifetime of Saving Orangutans

I finally have met the third person connected with one of Dr. Lewis Leakey's greatest legacies. He had personally chosen three women to spearhead field research on primates, as he believed they were key to understanding the mysteries of human evolution. He referred to the women as the Trimates. Each one -- Jane Goodall (chimpanzees), Dian Fossey (gorillas) and Biruté Galdikas (orangutans) -- became the super-stars of their field.

I had only met Jane Goodall at a cocktail function, although I did spend time in Gombe Stream National Park where she did her ground-breaking work. I met Dian Fossey in 1976, and spent some time with her, while Kenyan filmmaker Simon Trevor and I worked on a World Wildlife Fund film about forest destruction in East Africa.

I met Dr. Biruté Galdikas on a hot afternoon this past August when our rather ancient Trigana Air 737 landed in Pangklanbun, Borneo. We were 14 friends and family. It had been quite a trek to get here and, by the look of the airport terminal, we were most definitely not in Kansas anymore.

I felt deeply moved at meeting her, that she had made the effort to come to the airport, that she was taking her time to be with us for the next three days. The idea that a person would dedicate their entire life to understand and protect a single species is remarkable, and the people who have chosen to do that have a rare and unique character. One feels a certain sense of awe in their presence.

In any case, Dr. G. (it was suggested that this was an appropriate reference) laid out the rough plans for the next days and, while waiting for our luggage, talked about the visit the week before of President Clinton who had come with a group of donors to the Clinton Global Initiative to see first-hand the orangutans threatened by forests rapidly disappearing due to logging and palm oil plantations.

Clearly she was very pleased about his visit. Her perceptions of President Clinton were precise, from his grasp of information, to how he engaged, to how he radiated empathy. It was as if Clinton were an orangutan being studied.

We took a short drive down to the Kumao River, boarded two klotoks, (traditional river transport boats), and headed up a tributary to Tanging Haropen, one of several feeding stations. These are places where wild and rehabilitated orangutans can come for a reliable feeding. This is especially important in the dry season when wild fruits are less available.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: A Lifetime of Saving Orangutans