Along with Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Dr. Birute Galdikas is one of the most accomplished figures in the world of primatology. In the 1960s, she began studying the habits and habitats of the endangered orangutan species. By 1971, she had founded the Orangutan Research and Conservation Project in the forests of Indonesia. This project has continued under Galdika’s supervision for the past 30 years, making it one of the longest and most comprehensive studies of primates – or any subject, for that matter.
Galdika’s scientific work has inevitably taken on a distinctly environmentalist dimension in light of the unpredictable Indonesian economy and politics. She herself helped to create the Tajung-Putting National Park, the reserve on which she has undertaken much of her work. She has almost single-handedly campaigned to save other native areas from being mined for gold and oil and destroyed for timber. She has, on multiple occasions, nursed baby orangutans back to health after they have been abused, captured or left orphaned due to illegal trade of the species. Throughout all these endeavors, Galdikas’ relentless pursuit of knowledge has yielded a wealth of information not only about the primates themselves, but also about the similarly endangered rainforest, which has lead to an increased understanding of the biodiversity of Indonesia.
In addition to her field studies, Galdikas heads the Orangutan Foundation International, an organization that employs more than 200 people in efforts to preserve indigenous species. As a professor, lecturer, author and member of multiple other professional organizations, including the American Society of Primologists, the American Anthropological Association and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Galdikas continues to share her incredible expertise and painstaking research with the scientific and academic world.
Galdikas’ efforts on behalf of the orangutan and the ecology of Asia have been recognized with numerous honors. She has received Indonesia’s Kalpataru Hero of the Environment, and is an official advisor of the Indonesian government. She has received the PETA Humanitarian Award, the Tyler Prize for World Environmental Science Achievement and the Untied National Globe 500 Environmental Award, among other honors, has been keynote speaker at an Annual Nobel Foundation Conference and has written best selling books and numerous scholarly articles.