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Dr Biruté Galdikas Inspires Students


The world’s leading primatologist in studying orangutans, Dr Biruté Galdikas, today gave an online talk with Q&A to pupils at The Mount and many other schools.

Speaking live from the American West Coast, Dr Galdikas said she was delighted to be speaking with the schools and appreciated the opportunity. “For the last 50 years I have been studying a population of wild orangutans and working to protect orangutans and their tropical rainforest habitat in Indonesian Borneo,” she said. She described her journey as having had times of joy stemming from the opportunity to work with orangutans, “an opportunity which no one will ever have again because Borneo in the last 50 years has changed so much. The forests have disappeared, the numbers of orangutans have gone down, and Kalimantan is a different place today to what it was 50 years ago,” said Dr Galdikas.

The title of her talk was “Concern for Orangutans = Concern for Mother Earth”. She shared video footage and insights of her experiences from 1971 onwards, and talked about the challenges facing orangutan conservation today. She gave the audience good, practical advice for ways they can help orangutans to survive and to prevent the destruction of their disappearing habitats.

The online talk was attended by students from schools in York and the surrounding areas as well as girls’ schools throughout the UK. During the Q&A, some schools were able to ask a question of Dr Galdikas. The pupils’ questions were:

  • Orangutans have lost much of their rainforest habitat in Borneo and Sumatra to palm oil production. What can we do as individuals to help orangutans, given that palm oil is in so many products that we use today? (Terrington Hall)
  • Orangutans are now on the WWF critically endangered list. What future do you see for orangutans and other great apes of our planet?
  • How long have you been interested in this line of work? (St Paul’s Primary School)
  • Which do you prefer spending time with more, orangutans or humans? (Queen Mary’s School)
  • What have you noticed about the local population of Borneo, the relationship they have with their environment and how much that impacts your efforts for conservation? (Royal School Bath)
  • What’s your favourite thing about your job? (St Wilfrid’s RC Primary School, York)
  • In your opinion, what single area of research would have the greatest positive effects on orangutan conservation? (The Mount School York)
  • What was the best experience you ever had in orangtuans? (Long Marston Primary School)
  • Is your favourite animal the orangutan? (Staveley Community Primary School)

Giving her summary of Dr Galdikas’ presentation, Abigail in College I said, “I can speak on behalf of all of us when I say that I found your talk very admirable and inspiring through your amazing work over the years. You’ve clearly made a great difference in protecting orangutans and their habitats, having spent your life’s work dedicated to them. Poaching, pollution and deforestation has unfortunately taken a great toll on the quality of orangutans’ lives, leaving not only them but many other thousands of species homeless and in poor condition. Some more examples of activities which destroy the rainforest include illegal mining, logging and forest fires. The Orangutan Foundation International helps support conservation, help to rescue, rehabilitate and rehabitat the orangutans, into an healthier and happier environment. Having studied orangutans for fifty years, Dr Galdikas has worked to protect them and their habitats. She has spent years learning about the nature and characteristics of them, and has helped provide detail about orangutan ecology through her research. But how can we help? We can use less palm oil by looking at labels of food products and trying to find an alternative, even though our favourite foods like Nutella and Oreos have palm oil in them so you can even write to companies and ask them to find a different approach. You can foster a baby orangutan through Orangutan Foundation International and support charities which protect orangutans. Plant trees. Every little helps, really, the less tress, the less carbon, and we can help mitigate the effects of climate change together.

Pupils were inspired by Dr Galdikas’ talk, and enjoyed learning more about orangutans. Children from Staveley Primary School said:
Dr Galdikas was very brave to walk through the swamps.
I am now much more aware of the issues facing the rainforests.
I am now going to check my groceries for palm oil.”
I had no idea that orangutans were so like us and are capable of using tools!
 “The girls thoroughly enjoyed the talk and were completely inspired by all that Dr Biruté Galdikas has achieved.
– Queen Mary’s School, Thirsk  
The Mount’s Principal, Adrienne Richmond, said, “Dr Galdikas’ talk and the answers she gave to their questions were enlightening. I know I’ve learned a lot. Our girls enjoyed hearing from Dr Galdikas, as did pupils from our guest schools.The Mount’s Quaker values encourage sustainability and stewarding of the natural world.