Birute Galdikas was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1946.
She also had an interest in animals from an early age and was especially fascinated by orangutans.
Along with chimps and gorillas, orangutans are humans’ closest living relatives.
Galdikas’s family moved from Germany to Canada and then to the United States, and Galdikas studied anthropology at UCLA.
In 1969, Leakey was giving a lecture at the university when Galdikas asked him to sponsor an orangutan research project for her similar to Goodall’s and Fossey’s. He agreed, and in 1971, Galdikas found herself in Camp Leakey in Borneo, Indonesia, one of the orangutans’ last remaining homes.
Galdikas found the orangutan’s behavior quite different from that of chimps and gorillas.
The orangutan is not a social animal like the other great apes. They lead solitary lives, except when females are raising their young, and they rarely leave the treetops of their rain forest habitat.
They eat mostly fruits and also make use of simple tools like twigs to find insects. Galdikas often witnessed males fighting each other when a female was present. As they fought, their fleshy cheek pads would expand and their loud screams could be heard a mile away.
The orangutan is also an endangered species due to human activities. Their rain forest habitats are quickly disappearing, and poachers kill them and capture their babies for zoos.
Galdikas has also discovered that female orangutans in the wild give birth only once every eight years. This extremely low birthrate also threatens the survival of this species in the wild.
The work of Galdikas, like that of Goodall and Fossey, is not only important in trying to help our closest relatives survive on Earth.
It also gives us a close look at how our ancestors lived millions of years ago.