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Birute Galdikas
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Animal Expert
    (May 10, 1946- )
    Born in Wiesbaden, Germany
    Primatologist known for her studies of orangutans
    Operates the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine in Kalimantan Tengah in Indonesian Borneo
    Claimed to have successfully rehabilitated over 200 orphaned orangutans and returned them to the wild
    Wrote ‘Reflections of Eden’ (1995) and ‘Orangutan Odyssey’ (1999)
    Featured in the IMAX film ‘Born to Be Wild (3D)’ (2011)
    Became an Indonesian citizen (2000)
    Name pronounced bi-ROO-tay GAHL-di-kuhs
    She and fellow primatologists Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey were nicknamed ‘Leakey’s Angels,’ since they were all originally sponsored by anthropologist Louis Leakey.
    She has the least recognition of Leakey’s Angels. (‘That’s because I have name nobody can pronounce and because I’ve been in Borneo all these years.’)
    She has been accused of allowing orangutans at her rehabilitation center become too dependent on their human caregivers.
    She has been accused of failing to screen orphaned orangutans for diseases such as hepatitis and tuberculosis before returning them to the wild.
    Her scientific research trailed off as her rehabilitation work intensified.
    Before her research, almost nothing was known about orangutan behavior due to their elusiveness.
    Goodall noted, ‘Compiling data on the animals was considerably tougher for Birute than for me. Chimps are very sociable. It might take her a year to see what I can observe in one lucky day.’
    She suffered recurring bouts of malaria, dengue fever and leg ulcers.
    She said about the often inhospitable conditions in the jungles of Borneo, ‘I stuck it out because I really like orangutans.’
    She persuaded the Indonesian government to set aside 187,800 acres as an orangutan preserve.
    She was the first woman and first non-native Indonesian to receive the Kalpataru (Hero for the Earth) Award, the highest honor given by the Indonesian government for environmental leadership (1997).

Credit: C. Fishel


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