OFI's Founder and President is Dr. Biruté M.Galdikas
Scientist, conservationist, educator: for more than three decades Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas has studied and worked closely with the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo in their natural habitat, and is today the world’s foremost authority on the orangutan.
Galdikas began her studies of natural sciences at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), quickly earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology and zoology in 1966 and her master’s degree in anthropology in 1969. It was there as a graduate student that she first met Kenyan anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey and spoke with him about her desire to study orangutans.
After three years, Dr. Leakey finally found the funding for Galdikas’ orangutan studies, as he had previously done with both Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey for their studies on chimpanzees and mountain gorillas, respectively.
And so in 1971, Galdikas and her then husband, photographer Rod Brindamour, arrived in one of the world’s last wild places, Tanjung Puting Reserve in Indonesian Borneo. There were no telephones, roads, electricity, television, or regular mail service there at that time. Before she left the U.S., she was told by her professors and others that it "couldn’t be done"; she wouldn’t be able to study orangutans in the wild.
Before long, however, her hard work and determination paid off. By the year’s end, she had set up "Camp Leakey," named after her benefactor and had begun documenting the ecology and behavior of the wild great apes. Four years later, she wrote the cover article for National Geographic magazine, bringing the orangutan widespread international public attention for the first time. The article was illustrated with Brindamour’s photographs.
The Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) was established in 1989 by Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas and a group of concerned scientists and lay people. Since its inception, OFI has rescued and returned to the wild over 450 orangutans in Indonesian Borneo and has protected over one million acres of rainforest. OFI has worked with Indonesian government and local communities in Borneo to expand national parks, establish reserves, and buy forest from local people and communities in order to set up local protective forests. OFI supports the longest longitudinal study of any orangutan population in the wild at the Camp Leakey study area in Tanjung Puting National Park, a study that began in 1971 and has been continuous ever since. OFI also repatriated a number of smuggled orangutans back from Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia.
After 32 years in Tanjung Puting, now a national park, Galdikas has conducted the longest continuous study by one principal investigator of any wild mammal in the world.
To support her work at Camp Leakey and to help support orangutans around the world, Dr. Galdikas and her former doctoral student, Dr. Gary Shapiro, set up Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) in 1986. Based in Los Angeles, California, OFI has chapters in Australia, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom.
From March 1996 through the end of March 1998 under a special decree, Galdikas served as a Senior Advisor to Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry on orangutan issues. In June 1997, she won the prestigious "Kalpataru" award, the highest honor given by the Republic of Indonesia for outstanding environmental leadership. She is the only person of non-Indonesian birth and one of the first women to be so recognized by the Indonesian government.
Featured twice on the cover of National Geographic, and the author of scores of scientific articles and reviews, Galdikas has also published two books, including her autobiography, Reflections of Eden. Galdikas has also been featured in Life, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and numerous television documentaries such as CBC’s The Third Angel, Connie Chung’s Eye to Eye, and In the Wild with Julia Roberts.
Dr. Galdikas is Professor Extraordinaire at the Universitas Nasional in Jakarta and Full Professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. She has supervised the field research of almost 100 biology students. In recognition of her achievements, Dr. Galdikas has received, among others, the following awards:
Indonesia’s Hero for the Earth Award (Kalpataru)
Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement
Institute of Human Origins Science Award
Officer, Order of Canada
PETA Humanitarian Award
United Nations Global 500 Award
Sierra Club Chico Mendes Award
Eddie Bauer Hero for the Earth
Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Medal (Canada)
Chevron Conservation Award
Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Medal (Canada)
Today, the situation facing wild orangutans is far more complicated than when Dr. Galdikas first began her studies. As a result of poaching and habitat destruction, orangutan populations are on the edge of extinction and could be completely gone within the next five to 10 years. Understanding is the first step to action. As President of OFI, Dr. Biruté Galdikas has studied orangutans longer than any other person in human history and has worked ceaselessly to save orangutans and forests, and to bring orangutans and their plight to the attention of the world.
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