Queen of the Orangutans


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Here I am with Davida

Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas has enjoyed one wild career, her life’s mission is studying wild orangutans. On this Steve Dale’s Other World podcast, I speak with my old friend – and I say that because several decades ago, I spent some time under Galdikas participating in field research of wild orangutans in Borneo.

She’s been dubbed one of Louis Leakey’s angels. Leakey chose Dr. Dian Fossey to focus on the mountain gorillas, Dr. Jane Goodall to follow chimpanzees, and Galdikas to observe orangutans back around 1970. And she continues even now to research orangutans nearly 50 years later. About all we know about orangutans is because of Galdikas’ work.

They are so human-like, especially when they’re young

Sadly, though, orangutans are disappearing and it’s happening fast. And she explains why their situation is truly dire, on the edge of extinction. It all has to do with poaching and mostly palm oil – and she explains why, cutting trees for palm oil plantations Not only has all this pushed orangutans to the brink, but it’s impacted the weather on the planet. That’s just how much forest is being cut down.

So, what’s the solution? Galdikas has begun ecotourism, last year attracting over 15,000 tourists. Another good answer is not to buy products with palm oil.

Galdikas talks about how she got hooked on orangutans in the first place, and met Leakey who asked her to study the most unknown of the great apes. You won’t believe what Leakey did to ‘test’ Galdikas.

Did you know that orangutans communicate with the whites of their eyes and how human-like they really are? They have a “gaze that penetrates right into your soul,” she says.

Galdikas tells of how when she first arrived in Borneo, local people thought she was a white ghost.

Learn more at the Orangutan Foundation.