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Birutė Mary Galdikas

Dr Birute Galdikas.jpg
Galdikas in 2011
Birutė Marija Filomena Galdikas

(1946-05-10) 10 May 1946 (age 77)
Alma mater University of California, Los Angeles
Known for Study of orangutans, conservation
Children Binti Paul Galdikas Brindamour (born 1976)
Fred Bohap (born 1982)
Jane Bohap (born 1985)
Awards Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (1997)
Scientific career
Fields Primatology, anthropology, ethology
Institutions Simon Fraser University
Thesis Orangutan adaptation at Tanjung Puting Reserve, Central Borneo (1978)
Influences Louis Leakey, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey

Birutė Marija Filomena Galdikas or Birutė Mary Galdikas, OC (born 10 May 1946), is a Lithuanian-Canadian anthropologist, primatologist, conservationist, ethologist, and author. She is a professor at Simon Fraser University. In the field of primatology, Galdikas is recognized as a leading authority on orangutans. Prior to her field study of orangutans, scientists knew little about the species.

Early life

Galdikas was born on 10 May 1946 in Wiesbaden, Germany. Her parents, Antanas and Filomena Galdikas, were Lithuanian refugees fleeing the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states following World War II. When Galdikas was two years old, the family moved to Canada in 1948, when her father signed a contract to work in copper mining in Quebec. The following year, they relocated to Toronto, where Galdikas grew up. Her father worked as a miner and a contractor. As a young child, Birutė's head was filled with visions of far-off forests and exotic creatures. The first book she borrowed from the Toronto Public Library was a tale about a monkey named Curious George. When she grew older, she was inspired by the National Geographic adventures of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. She has two younger brothers and a younger sister.


In 1962 the Galdikas family moved to Vancouver, where Galdikas met her future husband, Rod Brindamour. Two years later, after Galdikas had begun studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC), the family moved to the United States, where Galdikas enrolled in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and studied psychology and zoology. In 1966, she earned her bachelor's degrees in psychology and zoology, jointly awarded by UCLA and UBC. She married Brindamour and earned her master's degree in anthropology from UCLA both in 1969.

During her graduate studies at UCLA, Galdikas met paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, and proposed a plan aimed at studying orangutans in their natural habitats. Galdikas convinced Leakey to help orchestrate her endeavor, despite his initial reservations. Leakey found funding from the National Geographic Society which agreed to establish a research facility in Borneo. Her research became the basis of her doctoral studies, and she earned her doctorate in anthropology from UCLA in 1978.


Research in Borneo

In 1971, at age 25, Galdikas and her then-husband, photographer Rod Brindamour, arrived in Tanjung Puting Reserve, in Indonesian Borneo. Galdikas was the third of a trio of women appointed by Leakey to study great apes in their natural habitat. Dubbed by Leakey "The Trimates" the trio also included Jane Goodall, who studied chimpanzees, and Dian Fossey, who studied gorillas. Leakey and the National Geographic Society helped Galdikas set up her research camp near the edge of the Java Sea, dubbed "Camp Leakey", to conduct field study on orangutans in Borneo. Before Galdikas's studies, the orangutan was the least understood of the great apes. Galdikas went on to greatly expand scientific knowledge of orangutan behavior, habitat and diet.

Orangutan Foundation International

In 1986 Galdikas and her colleagues founded Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), based in Los Angeles, USA, to help support orangutans around the world. Her second husband, Pak Bohap, who was a Dayak rice farmer and tribal president, assisted in setting up sister organisations in Australia, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom and is co-director of the orangutan program in Borneo.

Advocacy and rehabilitation work

Galdikas has remained in Borneo for over 40 years while becoming an outspoken advocate for orangutans and the preservation of their rainforest habitat, which is rapidly being destroyed by loggers, palm oil plantations, gold miners, and unnatural conflagrations. While campaigning actively on behalf of primate conservation and preservation of rainforest, Galdikas continues her field research, among the lengthiest continuous studies of a mammal ever conducted.

Galdikas's conservation efforts extend beyond advocacy, largely focusing on rehabilitation of the orphaned orangutans turned over to her for care. Many of these orphans were once illegal pets, before becoming too smart and difficult for their owners to handle.

She has written several books, including a memoir entitled Reflections of Eden. In it, Galdikas describes her experiences at Camp Leakey and efforts to rehabilitate ex-captive orangutans and release them into the Borneo rainforest.

Galdikas is currently a professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, and Professor Extraordinaire at Universitas Nasional in Jakarta, Indonesia. She is also president of the Orangutan Foundation International in Los Angeles, California.

In 2021 Dr. Birute Galdikas became a patron of the nature conservation non-profit organisation The Ancient Woods Foundation (Sengirės fondas) aiming to protect the remaining old-growth forests in Lithuania with all the biodiversity there.


Galdikas has been featured in Life, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, numerous television documentaries, and twice on the cover of National Geographic. Galdikas's work has been acknowledged in television shows hosted by Steve Irwin as well as Jeff Corwin on Animal Planet.

In 1995, Galdikas was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Along with fellow Trimate Jane Goodall and preeminent field biologist George Schaller, Galdikas received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 1997 for her groundbreaking field research and lifetime contributions to the advancement of environmental science. Other honors include the Indonesia's Hero for the Earth Award (Kalpataru), Institute of Human Origins Science Award Officer, United Nations Global 500 Award (1993), Elizabeth II Commemorative Medal, the Eddie Bauer Hero of the Earth (1991), PETA Humanitarian Award (1990), and the Sierra Club Chico Mendes Award (1992). She was awarded a key to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2009 when she gave a presentation for the anthropology department at U.N.L.V.



  • Reflections of Eden: My Years with the Orangutans of Borneo (1995)
  • Orangutan Odyssey (1999)
  • Great Ape Odyssey. (2005). Abrams: New York. ISBN: 978-1-4351-1009-0

Film and television

Galdikas stars in the feature documentary Born to Be Wild 3D, released in April 2011. She has also appeared in the documentaries Nature (TV series documentary, 2005), Life and Times (TV series documentary, 1996), 30 Years of National Geographic Specials (TV documentary, 1995), Orangutans: Grasping the Last Branch (documentary, 1989), Beauty and the beasts (Channel 4 UK documentary, 1996), The Last Trimate (TV documentary, 2008), and She Walks With Apes (CBC TV documentary, 2019). Terry Pratchett's Jungle Quest (documentary, C4, UK 1995)

See also

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