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Episode 58: Biruté Mary Galdikas – 50 Years with Orangutans

As a young girl, Biruté Mary Galdikas dreamed of going to the forests of Southeast Asia to study the least-known of all the great apes, the elusive orangutan. People told her it would be impossible. But, in 1971, she traveled to Borneo and started what is now the longest ongoing study of orangutans in the history of science. This is her story.

She was the third in the group of now world-famous scientists known as the Trimates—Jane Goodall in Tanzania, Dian Fossey in Rwanda, and Biruté Mary Galdikas in Borneo. The Trimates were the first women to establish long-term studies of great apes in the wild. They were all mentored by Louis Leakey.

Their work formed the basis of everything science now knows about chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. And they’ve inspired generations of researchers and conservationists to follow in their footsteps.

Today’s episode celebrates Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas and her half-century of field research and orangutan conservation work.

About our guest

Dr. Galdikas is the founder and president of Orangutan Foundation International. She’s a research professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and Professor Extraordinaire at the Universitas Nasional in Jakarta. She’s a 19-time Leakey Foundation grantee, and she was one of Louis Leakey’s last proteges in his lifetime.



Ray Pang produced this episode. Sound design by Ray Pang. Our editor is Audrey Quinn. Meredith Johnson is the host and executive producer of Origin Stories. Thanks to Talain Blanchon for audio of Dr. Galdikas in the field and for recording our interview with Dr. Galdikas in his studio. And special thanks to Marcus Foley and Emily Patton for all their help.

Archival lecture audio is from The Leakey Foundation archive.

Music by Henry Nagle and Lee Roservere.

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