Former Torontonian, scientist, conservationist, educator Dr. Birutė Galdikas has studied and worked closely with the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo for over 50 years, and is the world’s leading authority on orangutans. On June 6 she was invited to give a lecture at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. Her topic was the extinction of orangutan males, a complex problem which is as yet little understood, but should be researched in its early stages, just as pre-diabetic conditions are essential knowledge for the prevention of diabetes. It is a problem she speaks about widely, because it is so important.
The greatest danger to orangutans is the presence of oil palm plantations, because of which the natural habitats of many species are destroyed. The plantations prevent the natural migration of males. Currently Dr. Galdikas is working with local inhabitants to create corridors for the primates by purchasing the required land with permission from the Indonesian government. The team has acquired 6,000 hectares of land, and planted 800,000 native trees, hoping to increase that number to 1 million by next year. Over 70,000 local children have participated in an educational program she initiated.
The Indonesian government has awarded Dr. Galdikas for her conservation work with the country’s highest honour, Hero for the Earth – the first non-Indonesian and one of the first women to be granted the prize. Her work has been described in six books, and documentaries have been filmed in Indonesia, Japan, USA, France, Italy and Australia. She has earned many other awards, including those bestowed by the United Nations, PETA and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. She heads the Orangutan Foundation International which she initiated in 1986.