Birute Galdikas has dedicated fifty years to working in the field in Borneo, observing orangutans in their natural habitat. Today this Lithuanian-Canadian primatologist, one of Louis Leakey's trimates (Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas), spoke at Vytautas Magnus Univeristy in Kaunas, Lithuania. Birute Galdikas shared insights about how she spent twelve-hour days in the rain forests looking for orangutans, her fight against loggers, the palm oil industry, and global corporations, and her efforts for conservation of the rain forest, while conducting her research, and providing education and employment for local people. “Globalization made conservation more difficult. Those government agencies active in conservation were local. Global corporations had no interest," Birute Galdikas shared with the audience.
The work was not easy. When their grant money ran out, most researchers would pack up and leave, but Birute and her husband stayed. She recalled: “People would say to me, ‘You look great’ because I was so thin. Well yes, we were starving. We had no money for food. But we would not leave.” During those years Birute suffered from cholera, typhoid, malaria, scorpion bites, insect bites. "Antibiotics kept me alive," she admitted. Her Baltic roots taught her stubbornness and determination, two qualities that helped her persevere. Those roots also instilled in her a deep love for nature, for the stillness of the forest.
Out in the jungles she learned "that your research will not be meaningful without spirituality. Your research must be rooted and grounded in spirituality.”
I am writing a long-form essay about Birute Galdikas, but here I would like to share just a few quotes from today's talk that inspired me:
“Orangutans are more closely related genetically to our human ancestors than we are because we have changed so much. When you look at an orangutan, you are not looking at an ancestor, you’re looking at someone who is almost an ancestor. They are us more or less seven million years ago. Those relatives of ours never left the garden of Eden. They are up there in the canopies of the forests eating their sweet fruit.”
“We humans are not primates, we are monkeys. Our success is because we have so many monkey features.”
Al Gore said, “The environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis.”
“Without a spiritual attitude, the research you do simply does not work.”
“I went to Borneo and I found that the orangutans are still living in the Garden of Eden.”
“If you are committed to the species you are studying as a researcher, you must go forward and work with the local people to ensure the survival of that species.”
Birute Galdikas, age 75. Behind her is a photo from the late sixties. Left to right, Birute, Louis Leakey, Rod Brindemour, Birute's husband.
Birute lecturing with a photograph of her local team.
A young Birute caring for two orphaned oraguntans.
Orangutans live in the tree canopies.
Laima Vincė, Dr. Birutė Galdikas, Eglė Aukštikalnytė-Hansen