A scientist, conservationist, & educator: Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas is the world’s foremost authority on the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo in their natural habitat.
Featuring artwork by Miler Ximena Lopez & words by Dr. Roopali Chaudhary, Sci-Illustrate Stories. Set in motion by Dr. Radhika Patnala.
The first time I read about orangutans was in a short story by Edgar Allan Poe called “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”. It was an unexpected ending, but what I learnt about orangutans was that they are very human-like in their movements and behaviours, just more aggressive. Poe summarized what was known about orangutans in the late 19th century, but few others know more about these animals than Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas.
Born in Germany to Lithuanian refugee parents during WWII, Biruté and her family moved to Canada when she was 2 years old. Arriving in Quebec, but later moving to Toronto, Biruté remembers her childhood of frequent trips to Toronto’s High Park where she often walked around the wilder parts, pretending to be in a jungle and learning to climb trees. Biruté was fond of going to the library, and she recalls one of her first library borrows to be that of “Curious George”. Not only did the character of the chimp, George, inspire her, but also did the relationship he had with his closest friend, the Man in the Yellow Hat. Biruté loved the library. She loved learning. She often borrowed books about ancient cultures, and when asked about her ambitions, she often said she would get a PhD.
By the age of 10, Biruté knew she wanted to learn more about orangutans because she was interested in human prehistory. She was fascinated to find out why did humans evolve from apes, but no new apes have evolved from humans. (She now has an answer to this question, but this is an impressive question for a 10 year old to ponder over).
In 1963, Biruté enrolled at the University of British Columbia (UBC) at the age of 17. But when her family moved to California, she enrolled at University of California Los Angelos (UCLA) where she enjoyed a level of informality and exploration of new ideas. She sampled…