orangutan at Semenggok

Rehabilitation centers have been set up to reintroduce young orangutans to a life in the wild have scored many successes. The animals, which are brought in from zoos, lumber camps and villages where people who kept them as pets, are often able to adapt to the forest after a year or two. More than 250 orangutan have been returned to the jungles of Kalimantan. Most are orphans.

Orphans and confiscated animals are brought in every month to theses facilities. Mishaps are common. One newcomer to Galdikas’s facility, who had only been out of her cage for a day, climbed to the top of a tree, grabbed a rotten vine and fell 60 feet, breaking her arm. Brindamour took care of the animal by making her a cast.

Orangutans being trained to return to the rain forest are referred to as "students" or as "bicultural" depending on their ability. In the first year of training orphans are taught things they would have learned from their mothers such as climbing trees and swinging from branches, sometimes with ropes wrapped around them as if they were rock climbers. They learn how ro make nests from observing other orangutans do it. The youngest ones sometimes wear disposable diapers so they don’t dirty themselves and youngsters wear clothes to keep them warm and are fed milk from bottles.

The heart of the rehabilitation program is a set of platforms set up in the forest for orangutans. Bananas, papayas, white bread, pineapples and other food on the. The orangutans are allowed to feed on the food but are also encouraged to go into the forest and seek food and an independent life. After they leave the orangutan often return and beg for food, especially when food supplies in wild are dwindling. Some rehabilitation centers take a tough love approach and stop offering food to get the orangutans to return to the forest. Some orangutans have been able to prosper in the forest and give birth and raises a new generation of orangutans.

At Semengok Orangutan sanctuary in Semengok (20 miles from Kuchin) in Sarawak is a 1,600 reserve with a halfway house that provides a home and wilderness training for orphans and formerly captive orangutans. According to AP, "new arrivals are quarantined for month and any ailments are treated. Then it's “outbound school” for as many a s four years of training in climbing, building nests, foraging for food and relating to others of their kind. Those who have lived with humans less than five years usually face few problems. After the semi-wold stage, the final step is their release into large sanctuaries or remote tracts of forest, their contact with humans, severed." At Semongok the orangutans are kept in cages between training session. After two years they animals are expected to have risen to a semi-wild status in which they close whether to live in the world or drop by the camp for the twice-a-day feedings.

Bohorok Orangutan Viewing Center

Bohorok Orangutan Viewing Center (south of Gunung Leuser National Park, 100 kilometers west of Medan, Sumatra) is where orangutans that have been raised in zoos and found by timber companies in Kalimantan and Sumatra are taught how to fend for themselves in the forest. The orangutan's live in the forest and come to the center during feeding time in the morning which is the best time to visit.

Bohorok was set up in 1973 as a rehabilitation center and has been officially operating viewing center since 2002, when a quarantine center was set outside Medan. The Medan facility is where rehabilitation and training is done. Bohorok has been closed to new orangutans since 1996 but those that were already there had no place to got and were allowed to stay on.

Bohorok used to be very difficult to get to. Steep hills, rivers and wilderness had to be traversed to get there. It is still somewhat isolated but that has not stopped tourists from going there. Now it is one of Sumatra’s largest tourist attraction and has became a victim of its own success. There are problems with guides feedings orangutans in the forest for the benefit of tourist (a clear no no that defies the rehabilitation concept), tourists touching the orangutans and possibly spreading disease to the animals and orangutans stealing tourist packs. The Medan facility is closed to tourists.

Bohorok is currently in the process of converting itself to an eco-tourism destination. An education center is being set up. The prime attraction are the feeding times, two times daily, on a platform in the jungle on the west bank of the Sunghai Bohorok, where orangutans come out of the forest for bananas and milk. To reach the site tourist cross the river in a dugout canoe. The feeding times are between 8:00am and 9:00am and between 3:00pm and 4:00pm. River crossings are available between 7:30am and 8:00am and between 2:30pm and 3:00pm.

On most days about a half dozen orangutans show at the platform, less if there are abundant food supplies in the forest. Visitors need to be accompanied by a guide to enter the park and have to buy a permit at the park entrance. It takes 30 minutes to walk from the park entrance to the boat crossing and another ten minutes to get to the viewing platform. Longer walks can be done in the forest.

Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program

Reporting from Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, Indonesia, Richard C. Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Peter Pratje, a German wildlife biologist and project leader of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, plans to free as many as 50 rehabilitated orangutans in Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in central Sumatra, where the species has not lived for 150 years. The orangutans — orphans illegally captured in the wild, sold as pets and later seized by authorities — are learning to live in an environment they haven't known since they were small. [Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2005]

“Unlike some orangutan rehabilitation centers, this one is not run as a tourist attraction. The 24-mile dirt road into the park keeps visitors and illegal loggers at bay by turning to mud in the rainy season, stranding travelers for days at a time. The younger orangutans at the center are released from their cages during the day to explore the nearby forest and learn how to find some of the 200 foods a wild orangutan eats.

“It's up to the younger orangutans to decide when they are ready to stay overnight in the jungle. Older orangutans, when they are deemed ready, are taken a short distance into the jungle and released. The staff monitors them and feeds them if necessary. Some disappear quickly and stay away for long periods. Others come back to the center and hang around for months. Some never adjust, like Sari, a 12-year-old who lives in the camp, sleeps in a metal barrel instead of a tree and steals vegetables from the garden rather than forage in the woods.

"It's clear that not all orangutans can be rehabilitated or reintroduced," said Pratje, who estimates that 20 percent are too accustomed to human ways to adapt to the jungle. "If they are kept very well, like part of the family, the chances of turning them back into orangutans is smaller," he said. "Those who were treated badly hate humans. If they hate humans, they don't expect us to feed them." Of the 35 orangutans released between January 2003 and May 2005, four are confirmed dead and eight are unaccounted for, Pratje said. Over the long term, he expects that about half the orangutans he releases will survive.

“Two four-man enforcement teams hired by the center patrol the national park, watch over the orangutans and occasionally destroy illegal logging camps. It is the first time since the fall of the Suharto military regime seven years ago that wildlife regulations have been enforced in the park.

Story of a Rescued Orangutan at Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program

feeding station

Richard C. Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Mustafa, the largest of the 35 freed so far, stands a good chance of becoming the group's alpha male. He is believed to already have fathered two babies through the bars of his cage while awaiting release at the Orangutan Reintroduction Center on the edge of the park. Estimated to be 15 years old, he seems good-natured but is potentially the most dangerous because of his size. [Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2005]

“Pratje believes Mustafa was captured when he was about 3 and still with his mother. At some point, Mustafa was taken to the Hotel Niagara near Sumatra's scenic Lake Toba, where he was called Boy and kept in a garden mini-zoo with snakes, monkeys, monitor lizards and a younger orangutan, also called Boy.

“His home was a cage 6 feet wide, 10 feet long and 10 feet high. "It was like a jail," acknowledged Agun Pakpahan, Mustafa's keeper during his last two years of captivity. Mustafa was kept there for a decade, Pratje believes. "His crime," he said, "was being cute when he was a baby." Hotel guests were allowed to feed the orangutan bananas and other fruit. Sometimes he would get upset and grab a visitor's hand, Pakpahan said, but he never hurt anyone. He liked to climb around in the cage and be sprayed with water. It appears Mustafa was well cared for; he does not display the animosity toward humans that is common among mistreated orangutans. Pakpahan said he wept the day he came to work in 2002 and found that police had confiscated both of his beloved Boys.

“Mustafa spent 15 months at the reintroduction center at Bukit Tigapuluh, a camp of scattered wooden houses and orangutan cages about 200 miles south of the equator, and was released into the wild. The arrival of Mustafa presented special problems. For one thing, he was much too big to be let out for his lessons. Keepers brought about 50 kinds of food to his cage. They demonstrated how to eat termites and break open a rattan vine with their teeth. But Pratje was uncertain how much Mustafa learned. "There's a lot we can't teach," he said. "We can show him the fruit but not the tree."

Release of Rescued Orangutan at Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program

Richard C. Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Pratje decided to release Mustafa during the rainy season, when food was most abundant. The keepers lured him into a metal box measuring about 4 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet high. It had a small mesh screen at one end that allowed him to peer out. Eight men carried his cage on poles for a day through the leech-infested jungle, then ferried him by bamboo raft upriver to a remote part of the park. [Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2005]

“On the first day, the eight bearers carried Mustafa into the forest along an old logging road, then up and down steep trails through the jungle. The temperature was above 90 degrees and the air was heavy with humidity. "This is the most difficult one because he is the biggest and the site is also the farthest," said Suparman, 26, an enforcement unit leader who has been involved in many of the releases. Like many Indonesians, he uses one name. "It's also more difficult because it's the rainy season and the trail is more slippery."

“The group stopped frequently to rest and occasionally pull off leeches. When the bearers came to a stream or river, they jumped in fully clothed to cool down. Mustafa sometimes pounded on the box when the team stopped, but most of the time he was calm. That afternoon, the team set up camp by the Manggatal River and made a bamboo raft for Mustafa. Hornbills flew over the towering trees. Gibbons howled continually from the nearby treetops. A rare Malayan tapir came out of the forest 50 feet from camp and crossed the river to a deep swimming hole.

“The next day, the group headed up the Manggatal, wading in the shallow river alongside the raft, which was an unstable 3 feet wide and 40 feet long. Sometimes the men were up to their necks in water and struggled to keep the raft and Mustafa from tipping over. Orangutans generally dislike water, and the plan was to release Mustafa on the far bank so he would not return to the orangutan center. The bearers carried the metal box up a small stream, set it under the trees, opened the door and retreated to the safety of the stream.

“Mustafa crawled slowly out of the metal cage and found himself in the middle of the Sumatran jungle. He had been behind bars for a dozen years. Now he was home. He hesitated for a moment, then scampered up the nearest tree. In quick order, he swung on a vine, fed on termites from a rotting tree and built a sleeping nest 60 feet above ground. Pratje and the team, watching nervously from the water, marveled as Mustafa, who had been in the cage for more than 48 hours, climbed from tree to tree, swung on a vine and broke branches for the nest.

“After 90 minutes, Mustafa climbed a small tree by the bank of the stream. The tree bent, allowing him to climb into a tree growing from the opposite bank -- and suddenly the water wasn't such a barrier. Most of the team withdrew and hiked back to camp half a mile downstream. Mustafa followed on the far bank, swinging through the trees. Within an hour, he had reached the trees across the river from the camp.”

“Pratje was concerned that Mustafa would trail the crew all the way back to the center. He decided that all but a small observation team would break camp and leave at 4 a.m. before Mustafa awoke. That night, a torrential storm lashed the jungle. Mustafa spent his first night of freedom in a tree with lightning crashing all around and water pouring down in buckets. By 4 a.m., the river had become so swollen that the current would have swept away anyone who tried to wade. The group clung to the side of the raft in the pitch dark, half wading, half floating down the swollen river. The trick worked, and Mustafa didn't follow. The ape was sighted a month later near the spot where he was released. Since then, no one has seen him in the dense jungle, but Pratje believes he is still nearby.

Nyaru Menteng Rescue and Rehabilitation Center

At Forest School 103 at Nyaru Menteng Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, led and founded by Lone Droscher-Nielsen, rescued orangutans are taught to form their own society and then set free in the forest. With helicopters, mapping and other logistical support from the world's largest mining company BHP Billiton that operates a coal mining concession in Central Kalimantan, Nyaru Menteng released 36 adult orangutans in 2007, and 25 in 2008, filmed for Orangutan Diary. A planned airlift of 48 orangutans scheduled to take place in July 2009 was cancelled as BHP Billiton intended to withdraw from the area for strategic reasons. Orangutans that have been released have tiny radio transmitters placed under their skin to monitor their movements.

Reporting from Palangka Raya, Indonesia , where the center is located, Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post: Over the past decade, Droescher-Nielsen, a former Scandinavian Airlines Systems flight attendant, has saved nearly 600 orphaned orangutans in Borneo from almost certain death. Funded by donations from abroad, she has given the apes food, shelter and better health care than many humans in these parts ever get. Now, the 46-year-old Dane is preparing for a more difficult — and controversial — task: returning tame orangutans to the wild. "They were born wild, and they deserve to go back in the wild again," said Droescher-Nielsen. "That is our ultimate objective." [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post , November 14, 2009]

“Some experts wonder whether orangutans raised by humans will be able to hack life in the forest and whether diseases they might have caught in captivity will harm kin that never left the jungle. Droescher-Nielsen, whose project has grown into the world's largest primate rescue effort, expects most to make it. "The ones we set free are not going to be wild, but they can manage," she said. It will take a couple of generations for bad habits picked up in captivity to be completely purged. Disease, she added, shouldn't be a problem because the area selected for the trial release doesn't have a viable orangutan community of its own. Droescher-Nielsen initially hoped to start returning orangutans to the wild years ago, but, as forests kept retreating, it became increasingly difficult to find a safe place to put them. The task was further complicated by the fact that rehabilitated apes don't fear humans -- a big problem when many humans see them as a menace and want them dead.

“Keeping orangutans fed and sheltered is expensive. The Nyaru Menteng project has a staff of about 200 people. Salaries, food, medicines and other expenses mean that it costs about $2,000 a year for each of the nearly 600 apes in residence. That is more than twice the average annual income in the area. An additional 400 or so of the primates are being cared for in other rehabilitation centers in Borneo. "I'd like to be an orangutan," joked Nordin, a local environmental activist, who like many Indonesians uses one name. "They get given meals, and when they get sick they get sent to hospital."

“Droescher-Nielsen's center has a well-equipped clinic. Adult orangutans spend much of the day in a nearby peat-land forest that is off-limits to loggers and oil palm growers. Each afternoon, dozens come out of the trees for a "social hour" in the main compound. They munch fruit, climb on a jungle gym and play on swings. At night, they are escorted to a cluster of cages; the younger primates are piled into wheelbarrows and taken to a separate sleeping area.

“To survive in the wild, the orangutans will have to forget their pampered past lifestyle. Droescher-Nielsen's staff members have devised a number of techniques to try to help prepare the animals for life on their own in the forest. About 125 apes, for example, have been moved onto islands in a nearby river, where they have little contact with humans. Most of their food is still provided, but they have to work much harder to get it: It has been placed in trees, not simply left on the ground. Some of her center's orangutans, Droescher-Nielsen said, have scant chance of surviving in the wild, so they will have to stay put until they die. This could mean decades, as the animal's average life expectancy is 40 to 45 years. Those likely to stay include the blind, the maimed and apes "just too plain stupid to make it."

“Some question whether protecting apes in captivity will contribute to the long-term survival of the species. Rescuing baby orangutans is a "welfare issue, but it is not good for conservation," said John Burton, head of World Land Trust, a British conservation group. He's against returning orangutans that might be carrying human diseases to the forest and thinks that keeping them in expensive rehabilitation centers is "not cost-effective" as it only adds to a "world surfeit of captive orangutans." The main focus, he said, should be on protecting forests and the wild apes that live in them.Droescher-Nielsen agrees that the fundamental problem is the destruction of trees. But she also says humans must take responsibility for the havoc they've already caused. "I don't look at this with my brain. I look at it with my heart. I cannot leave these victims," she said. "We're the cause of their becoming orphans. What should we do, just euthanize them? Should we just kill them and say, 'I don't really care?' "

Breeding and Studying Orangutans

Scientist collect urine from wild orangutans by placing a sheet under their nests to determine what they have eaten and check for signs of menstruation, infections, weight loss and hormone levels. Cheryl Knott, an anthropologist at Borneo’s Gunung Paiung National Park, Indonesia, wrote in National Geographic: Marissa and her baby are among the 50 orangutans I've studied in the wild since 1994. I and my team of field assistants, managers, and students have spent more than 50,000 hours over the past decade observing orangutan behavior and documenting the apes' physiology. Our work investigates how the boom-and-bust cycle of rain forest fruits affects birth intervals and the length of juvenile dependency. [Source: Cheryl Knott, National Geographic, October 2003]

“Recently we participated in a joint effort with other scientists to look at orangutan "culture" — customs passed from one generation to the next and often unique to particular populations. For example, Martina will grow up threatening strangers by making kiss-squeaking sounds into a handful of leaves — a behavior seen regularly only at our site. Some 500 miles west of Borneo in Sumatra, orangutans use sticks to pry calorie-rich seeds from prickly, hard-to-eat Neesla fruits, a clever trick that youngsters pick up from the adults — and one that Borneo's apes have not devised.

“Populated with about 2,500 orangutans, Gunung Palung is one of their last strongholds. Describing a new addition Knott wrote: Marissa had a baby!" The good news arrived with my field assistant Rhanda as he dashed into our research camp. For three days we hadn't seen Marissa, one of about 50 orangutans I've studied in the wild since 1994. Rhanda found Marissa eating fruit from a Gnetum vine with the newborn female clinging to her mother's side. Orangutans bear young only about once every eight years (thought to be the longest span of any mammal), so there was much to celebrate. That was in 1998, shortly after I first reported on my research for National Geographic In several successive trips to Borneo, I've been relieved to find that Martina and the other orangutans at our site are doing well, despite the ever expanding reach of illegal logging.

Zoo-bred hybrid offspring of parents from Sumatra and Borneo are called "cocktail orangutans" or "mutts." Scientist are now trying to halt intermixing of the two subspecies, arguing they are genetically polluted and disrupted the biological integrity of the species. Some have argued that two groups are species, more genetically different than tigers and lion, or chimpanzees and bonobos. The hybrids can live out their lives at zoo, but no longer can produce offspring. Critics of the policy as an ape version of racism, and that the hybrid are treated like second class primates.

Orangutan Conservation

Birute Galdikas wrote in the New York Times: “The international community must recognize that it has some responsibility for what happens to the great rain forests of Indonesian Borneo. Foreign investment in local development programs needs to be expanded. Village level projects, like the one financed by the United States Agency for International Development and run by Boston-based World Education near where I work, have empowered farmers, strengthened village economies and employed local people, giving them a stake in preserving the forest. [Source: Birute Galdikas, New York Times, January 6, 2007]

“We need more of these programs. Indonesia could also impose a special tax on companies that profit from rain forest destruction, with the revenues dedicated to forest and orangutan conservation. Proper labeling of palm oil content could allow a consumer boycott of soap, crackers, cookies and other products that contain it. Finally, Indonesia needs to be more vigorous in enforcing the excellent laws it already has to protect its forests.

At a meeting in Pontianak, Indonesia in October 2005, leading environmental and wildlife agencies called for a united effort to protect the habitats of Borneo's orangutans. We would like to develop an action plan putting together all stakeholders," said Jito Sugardjito, representing Fauna and Flora International (FFI). Representatives from FFI, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the UN's Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) and UNESCO gathered to try and pool their expertise to save the orangutan. "Large-scale and coordinated actions are needed so that the limited resources available for securing the Bornean orangutan can be used efficiently and effectively," Indonesian government conservation official Adi Susmianto said.

“FFI are very good on law enforcement. WWF is very weak on that. Both are very good on rehabilitation, said WWF Indonesian director Nazir Foead. “Our strength is in habitat management and corporate engagement...We need to work a lot with corruption watch NGOs’ to keep tab on the palm oil industry.

World Land Trust and Buying Land in Borneo for Orangutans

Bill Brubaker wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “A hopeful sign came in 2007 when Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono partnered with nongovernmental organizations to launch a ten-year plan to protect the remaining orangutans. Without such protections against deforestation and illegal mining and logging, he predicted, "these majestic creatures will likely face extinction by 2050." [Source: Bill Brubaker, Smithsonian magazine, December 2010]

"Some of the palm oil plantations seem to be realizing that there is concern in the world about what they are doing," Galdikas says. "This to me is the best development." But, Galdikas says, provincial officials in Central Kalimantan have done little to stop palm oil plantations from encroaching on Tanjung Puting. "That's why we're trying to buy as much forest land as we can, so we can actually make sure the palm oil companies can't buy it," she says. "It's absolutely a race against time."

World Land Trust (WLT) is a non-profit organization intent on helping orangutan by buying land in the ape’s natural habitat in Borneo to keep it out the hands of loggers and palm oil plantation owners at a a cost of $1,107 an orangutan. According to the group’s website: “Whilst over 20,000 hectares of forest are under protection in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain, the forest reserves are fragmented. The aim of WLT and its partners is to purchase strategic areas of forest to create wildlife corridors that will link these fragmented patches and ensure a continuous habitat exists for wildlife. [Sources: Times of London, World Land Trust website]

David Attenborough is a major supporter of the WLT. According to WLT website: The WLT is working hard to raise funds for strategic land purchases in Borneo and has already secured two important corridors. Our project partners are currently looking at other critical Orang-utan corridors for WLT support and funds will be directed towards future land purchases. In addition to securing corridors, WLT has helped fund land protection and the development of management plans for the land saved, with project partner HUTAN. Funds have been used for HUTAN’s Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Project (KOCP), particularly the Honorary Wildlife Warden Scheme, jointly set up by HUTAN and the Sabah Wildlife Department. WLT is funding one of HUTAN's Honorary Wildlife Wardens as part of our Keepers of the Wild Appeal.

Biruté Galdikas

Biruté Galdikas is the most well known orangutan researcher. Recruited by Louis Leakey she is to orangutans what Jane Goodall is to chimpanzees and Diane Fossey is to gorillas. The actress Julia Roberts traveled to Borneo to meet her.

Bill Brubaker wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Galdikas has been living among orangutans since 1971, conducting what has become the world's longest continuous study by one person of a wild mammal. She has done more than anyone to protect orangutans and to help the outside world understand them.” [Source: Bill Brubaker, Smithsonian magazine, December 2010]

The daughter of Lithuanians who met as refugees in Germany and immigrated first to Canada, then the United States, Galdikas was born in Lithuania and earned a master's degree in anthropology at UCLA and PhD. She once described herself as one of Louis Leakey's "angels," along with chimpanzee researcher jane Goodall and gorilla researcher Dian Fossey, and said her first meeting with the famous paleontologist was a mystical experience that could have only taken place in Los Angeles, the city of angels. She also described Goodall as being like “Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”, following the yellow brick road with animal companions” and said Diane “was more like the talented but tormented actress who played Dorothy in the film, Judy Garland." Leakey called Galdikas, Goodall and Fossey "trimates." [Source: Washington Post review by Dutch ethologist Frans B. M. de Waal]

Biruté Galdikas’s Time in Borneo

Bill Brubaker wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “The Borneo that greeted Galdikas and her then-husband, photographer Rod Brindamour, was one of the most isolated and mysterious places on earth, an island where headhunting was part of the collective memory of local tribes. To locals, Galdikas was very much an oddity herself. "I started crying the first time I saw Biruté because she looked so strange. She was the first Westerner I'd ever seen!" says Cecep, Camp Leakey's information officer, who was a boy of 3 when he first glimpsed Galdikas 32 years ago. Cecep, who, like many Indonesians, goes by a single name, says he stopped crying only after his mother assured him she was not a hunter: "She's come here to help us." [Source: Bill Brubaker, Smithsonian magazine, December 2010]

“Galdikas has paid dearly for the life she has chosen. She has endured death threats, near-fatal illnesses and bone-chilling encounters with wild animals. She and Brindamour separated in 1979, and their son, Binti, joined his father in Canada when he was 3 years old. Both parents had worried that Binti was not being properly socialized in Borneo because his best friends were, well, orangutans. Galdikas married a Dayak chief named Pak Bohap and they had two children, Jane and Fred, who spent little time in Indonesia once they were teenagers. "So this hasn't been easy," she says.

Still, she doesn't seem to have many regrets. "To me, a lot of my experiences with orangutans have the overtones of epiphanies, almost religious experiences," she says with a far-off gaze. "Certainly when you are in the forest by yourself it's like being in a parallel universe that most people don't experience."

Biruté Galdikas’s Family Life

Galdikas did her early research with her husband Rod Brindamour. They spent over ten years in the rain forest together and raised a child named Binti at their camp. Binti learned sign language and orangutan behavior from the orangutans; his parents became concerned when he made the same facial expressions and sounds as the orangutans and tried to follow them up into the trees.

During her years in Indonesia, Galdikas left Brindamour for a Dyak farmer. They had two children. Rod in turn had a lover affair with an "Javanese beauty." At on point Rod was so jealous of his wife's involvement with an orangutan he "released" the male far from the camp.

As of the early 2000s, Galdikas was fat, with graying hair and big round glasses. She published books in Indonesian as well as English. and was constantly in hot water with the Indonesian government who told her when she arrived "polite guests in someone's home do not criticize their host." ,

Biruté Galdikas and Her Orangutan Research

Galdikas spent more than 20 years at Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo studying orangutans. She lived with and studied orangutans, much as Goodall did with chimpanzees and Fossey did with gorillas. The only real difference in their program is that they also helped train orphaned and captive orangutans to fend for themselves in forest like the Adamson's did with Elsie the lion in “Born Free”. Later she switch her focus from science to conservation. She now heads the Orangutan Foundation International, conservation group based in Brentwood California.

Galdikas still spends time at Camp Leakey, her research base and home away from home in Tanjung Puting National Park, a one-million-acre reserve on the southern coast of Borneo managed by the Indonesian government with help from her Orangutan Foundation International (OFI). "Camp Leakey still looks like a primeval Eden," she told Smithsonian magazine. "It's magical."

Bill Brubaker wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Galdikas has published her findings in four books and dozens of other publications, both scientific and general interest; signed on as a professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia (she spends about half the year in Canada and the United States); and mentored hundreds of aspiring scientists, such as the four students from Scotland's University of Aberdeen who are at Camp Leakey during my visit. Their mission? To collect orangutan feces samples to trace paternity and measure the reproductive success of various males. I ask Galdikas which orangutan riddles she has yet to solve. "For me," she says, "the big, abiding mystery is: How far did the original males travel here in Tanjung Puting, and where did they come from? [Source: Bill Brubaker, Smithsonian magazine, December 2010]

Critics of Biruté Galdikas

Over the years Galdikas has been criticized on a number of fronts. Other primatologists have criticized her method of reintroducing former captive orangutans to the wild, saying the effort was rarely successful and it risked introducing harmful diseases to the wild population. Wullies Smits, a Dutch botanist who runs another orangutan reintroduction programs, releases his animals where there are no wild orangutans.

The group Earthwatch broke is relation with Galdikas over her lack of publications and her unorthodox methods of orangutan care. Galdikas has been accused of keeping 85 orangutans illegally in her house, allowing teenage caretakers to blow cigarette smoke into the animals faces, leaving sick orangutan in their own feces, and encouraging tourist to abduct animals. Many orangutan under the care of her group lived in poor conditions and have died of infections and neglect. Her young orangutans have a 50 percent infant mortality rate.

Galdikas has been accused of leaving scientific fieldwork to her volunteers and the ignoring their work Smits told Newsweek, "Birute wants to be a mother for orangutan babies. If anybody interferes with those feelings, he's in for a lot of trouble."

Orangutan Party at Biruté Galdikas’s Camp Leakey

Bill Brubaker wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Darkness is fast approaching at Camp Leakey, the outpost in a Borneo forest that Biruté Mary Galdikas created almost 40 years ago to study orangutans. The scientist stands on the porch of her weathered bungalow and announces, "It's party time!" There will be no gin and tonics at this happy hour in the wilds of Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province. Mugs of lukewarm coffee will have to do. Yes, there's food. But the cardboard boxes of mangoes, guavas and durians — a fleshy tropical fruit with a famously foul smell — are not for us humans. [Source: Bill Brubaker, Smithsonian magazine, December 2010]

"Oh, there's Kusasi!" Galdikas says, greeting a large orangutan with soulful brown eyes as he emerges from the luxuriant rain forest surrounding the camp. Kusasi stomps onto the porch, reaches into a box of mangoes and carries away three in each powerful hand. Kusasi was Camp Leakey's dominant male until a rival named Tom took charge several years ago. But Kusasi, who weighs in at 300 pounds, can still turn aggressive when he needs to.

"And Princess!" Galdikas says, as another "orang" — noticeably smaller than Kusasi but every bit as imposing, especially to a newcomer like me — teps out of the bush. "Now Princess is really smart," she says. "It takes Princess a while, but if you give her the key she can actually unlock the door to my house." "And Sampson! And Thomas!" Galdikas smiles as these juvenile males bare their teeth and roll around in the dirt, fighting. They are fighting, right? "Noooo, they're just playing," Galdikas tells me. "They are just duplicating how adult males fight. Sampson makes wonderful play faces, doesn't he?"

“No Camp Leakey party would be complete without Tom, the reigning alpha male and Thomas' older brother. Tom helps himself to an entire box of mangoes, reminding Kusasi who's boss. Tom bit Kusasi severely and took control, Galdikas tells me, nodding toward Tom and whispering as if Kusasi might be listening. "Be careful," she says as the new monarch brushes past me on the porch. "He's in a bad mood!" And then, just as suddenly as they appeared, Tom, Kusasi and the gang leave this riverside camp to resume their mostly solitary lives. Galdikas' mood darkens with the sky. "They don't say goodbye. They just melt away," she says, her eyes a bit moist. "They just fade away like old soldier.”

Biruté Galdikas and Orangutan Conservation

Galdikas said her biggest fear is that orangutans will vanish. "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I just clutch my head because the situation is so catastrophic," she told Smithsonian magazine. "I mean, we're right at the edge of extinction."

Bill Brubaker wrote in Smithsonian magazine, Galdikas has been sounding the "e" word for decades while battling loggers, poachers, gold miners and other intruders into the orangutans' habitat. And now a new foe is posing the most serious threat yet to Asia's great orange apes. Corporations and plantations are rapidly destroying rain forests to plant oil palms, which produce a highly lucrative crop. "Words cannot describe what palm oil companies have done to drive orangutans and other wildlife to near-extinction," Galdikas says. "It's simply horrific." [Source: Bill Brubaker, Smithsonian magazine, December 2010]

“Tanjung Puting National Park, a one-million-acre reserve Galdikas helped set up, is not fully protected. "If you go eight kilometers north [of the camp], you come into massive palm oil plantations," she says. "They go on forever, hundreds of kilometers." So far, in a bid to outmaneuver oil palm growers, Galdikas' OFI has purchased several hundred acres of peat swamp forest and partnered with a Dayak village to manage 1,000 more.

“Rain forest is cheap — as little as $200 an acre in recent years if it's far from a town. And Galdikas has a key advantage over the palm oil companies: she is trusted by the Dayak community. "People here respect Dr. Biruté as the scientist who devoted her life to fighting to save the orangutans," says Herry Roustaman, a tour guide who heads the local boatmen's association.

"I try not to get depressed, I try not to get burned out," Galdikas told AP. "But when you get up in the air you start gasping in horror; there's nothing but palm oil in an area that used to be plush rain forest. Elsewhere, there's burned-out land, which now extends even within the borders of the park."

Biruté Galdikas’s Zoo

Bill Brubaker wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Galdikas takes me to see another prized piece of her real estate portfolio, a private zoo just outside Pangkalan Bun that her foundation bought for $30,000. The purchase was a "two-fer," she says, because it enabled her to preserve ten acres of rain forest and shut down a mismanaged zoo that appalled her. "I bought the zoo so I could release all the animals," she says. "There were no orangutans in this zoo. But there were bearcats, gibbons, a proboscis monkey, even six crocodiles." [Source: Bill Brubaker, Smithsonian magazine, December 2010]

A look of disgust creases her face as we inspect a concrete enclosure where a female Malay honey bear named Desi once lived. "Desi was just covered in mange when I first saw her," Galdikas says. "Her paws were all twisted because she tried to escape once and ten men pounced on her and they never treated the paw. They threw food at her and never went in to clean the cage because they were afraid of her. All she had for water was a small cistern with rain water in it, covered with algae. So I said to myself, 'I have to save this bear. This is just inhuman.'"

Galdikas' Borneo operation employs about 200 men and women, including veterinarians, caregivers, security guards, forest rangers, behavioral enrichment specialists (who seek to improve the physical and mental well-being of the captive orangutans), a feeding staff and eight local blind women who take turns holding the orphaned babies 24 hours a day. "Orangutans like to eat," Galdikas says one morning as she leads two dozen orphaned baby orangutans on a daily romp though the 200-acre care center a few miles outside Pangkalan Bun. "We feed them five times a day at the care center and spend thousands of dollars on mangoes, jackfruits and bananas every month."

Biruté Galdikas’s Orangutan Care Center and Release Area

Bill Brubaker wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “About 330 orphaned orangs live at the 13-year-old center, which has its own animal hospital with laboratory, operating room and medical records office. Most are victims of a double whammy; they lost their forest habitat when gold miners, illegal loggers or palm oil companies cleared it. Then their mothers were killed so the babies could be captured and sold as pets. Most came to Galdikas from local authorities. Kiki, a teenager who was paralyzed from the neck down by a disease in 2004, slept on a four-poster bed in an air-conditioned room and was pushed in a pink, blue and orange wheelchair before she died this year. [Source: Bill Brubaker, Smithsonian magazine, December 2010]

The juveniles will be released when they are between 8 and 10 years of age, or old enough to avoid being prey for clouded leopards. In addition to the fruits, the youngsters are occasionally given packages of store-bought ramen noodles, which they open with gusto. "If you look closely, you'll see each package has a tiny salt packet attached," says Galdikas. The orangutans carefully open the packets and sprinkle salt on their noodles.

Galdikas and I roar down the inky Lamandau River in a rented speedboat, bound for a release camp where she hopes to check up on some of the more than 400 orangutans she has rescued and set free over the years. "The orangutans at the release site we'll be visiting do attack humans," she warns. "In fact, we had an attack against one of our assistants a few days ago. These orangutans are no longer used to human beings."

But when we arrive at the camp, about an hour from Pangkalan Bun, we encounter only a feverish, emaciated male sitting listlessly beside a tree. "That's Jidan," Galdikas says. "We released him here a year and a half ago, and he looks terrible." Galdikas instructs some assistants to take Jidan immediately back to the care center. She sighs. "There's never a dull moment here in Borneo," she says. (Veterinarians later found 16 air rifle pellets under Jidan's skin. The circumstances of the attack have not been determined. After a blood transfusion and rest, Jidan recuperated and was returned to the wild.)

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2012

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