May 10 - Happy Birthday, Biruté Galdikas

Posted on May 10, 2020

Lithuania, USSR, Germany, Canada, US, Indonesia...

Who could ever expect her life to be so global?

Born on this day in 1946, Biruté Galdikas had Lithuanian parents who fled from the USSR's occupation of their homeland, after World War II, to Germany. That's where little Biruté was born. But when she was just two, the family moved to Canada, and that's where Galdikas was brought up.

As a teenager, Galdikas was fascinated by Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzees and Dian Fossey's work with gorillas - as reported by National Geographic Magazine

Galdikas's family moved again, this time to the U.S., and Galdikas attended the University of California Los Angeles. She got her Bachelor's degree in psychology and zoology and her Master's in anthropology.

...And during those studies she was able to meet Louis Leakey, the guy who fostered Goodall's and Fossey's work on primates. Galdikas was able to convince him and the staff at National Geographic to send her to Borneo, which is part of Malaysia and Indonesia, in Southeast Asia.

Why Borneo? Galdikas wanted to study the great ape that had not yet been studied with the kind of long-term observation that Goodall and Fossey had given to chimps and gorillas. That last-but-not-least great ape was the orangutan.

Galdikas arrived in Borneo at age 25, and she has led what is described as the lengthiest continuous study of a mammal ever conducted. 

By the way, Galdikas got her own National Geographic cover:

Galdikas is still living a global life. Her work continues in Borneo, she is a university professor in Canada and Indonesia, and she is president of the Orangutan Foundation International, headquartered in Los Angeles. 

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