Jody Jacob



Scientist Birutė Galdikas inspired by four decades spent in the jungle

Primatologist, conservationist, and ethologist Birutė Galdikas shared her story Monday night about the wild yet gentle orangutan and her life-long mission to protect the endangered primates and their habitat.

Her talk, Curious Orange -- Preserving Orangutans and Forest, was the final event in this season's Distinguished Speaker Series, presented by UBC's Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences.

"Orangutans are not our closest relative in the animal kingdom, but they share 97 per cent of our DNA," said Galdikas. "And the interesting thing about this DNA is that it has not much changed since the ancestors of the great apes and the ancestors of humankind parted ways. So when we look at the orangutan we are looking at a creature that basically has the same, more or less, DNA as the ancestral great ape that was once a sibling of our own ancestor."

Galdikas has been in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), studying and protecting wild orangutans and the forest since 1971. She is an expert in wild orangutan behaviour, and focuses her efforts on the development of orangutan conservation programs, and the re-introduction of captured apes into the wild.

"Extinction happens in front of our eyes and we don't actually see it. We watch it eyes wide open and don't actually understand it. This is the situation facing all the great apes of today," she said.

The main threats facing orangutans are poaching, illegal logging, illegal mining, fires, and palm oil plantations.

"Certain biological attributes increase vulnerability to extinction. Orangutan natural history suggests they are susceptible to sudden changes in the environment, and certainly global warming and deforestation are two very real changes to their environment," said Galdikas. "That said, if orangutans do go extinct in this century, and it might happen, it will be due to palm oil. The one thing that people can do to help the orangutan -- and it doesn't cost a thing -- is to stop using palm oil, in all its forms."

Galdikas established Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) in 1986, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of orangutan and their habitat. OFI operates Camp Leakey, an orangutan research centre within Tanjung Putting National Park, and also runs the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine facility in the Dayak village of Pasir Panjang, which is home to 330 displaced orangutans, many of which were captured by poachers. OFI helps manage the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, where rehabilitated orangutans were released into the jungle.

"The orangutan is very dear," said Galdikas. "When you look into the eyes of these creatures, you are looking into eyes that resemble human eyes; the eyes that gaze back at you reflect your own."

Primatologist Birutė Galdikas with a 1971 National Geographic cover where she was featured in a story about her work with orangutans in Borneo. Galdikas gave a community talk at the Kelowna Community Theatre Monday night as part of UBC’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

Birutė Galdikas talks with audience members

Primatologist Birutė Galdikas talks with audience members following her UBC Distinguished Speaker Series talk, Curious Orange -- Preserving Orangutans and Forest, at the Kelowna Community Theatre Monday night.


Lael Parrott, director of Okanagan Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience and Ecosystem Services (BRAES)

BRAES a leader in eco research and environmental policy at UBC Okanagan

The Okanagan Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience and Ecosystem Services (BRAES) has risen from the former Institute for Species at Risk and Habitat Studies (SARAHS) at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

“The name change not only more accurately reflects the institute's research mandate, but also better positions the Okanagan campus as a centre of excellence for research in ecology, natural resource management, and the environment,” says Lael Parrott, director of the Okanagan Institute for BRAES.

BRAES comprises more than 20 faculty members and about 70 graduate and undergraduate students from various faculties, including programs in biology, mathematics and statistics, earth and environmental sciences, physical geography, economics and creative studies. In collaboration with more than 50 partner organizations, including government ministries and non-government organizations, the goal of BRAES is to increase scientific understanding of ecological systems from genetics to landscape scales and to inform management and planning decisions that promote environmental sustainability.

Researchers with BRAES were granted $3.2 million in research funding in 2012-2013, and had more than 90 peer-reviewed scientific papers published. The institute facilitates multidisciplinary collaboration, and members of the research team work in a variety of environments and locations around the globe, using a wide range of field, laboratory and quantitative methods.  BRAES is committed to promoting research partnerships and carrying out research that will directly inform environmental policy and management decisions.

More information:


Hear personal stories from scientist’s four decades in the jungle with orangutans

Birutė Galdikas

The public is invited to a free presentation on Monday, April 7, by primatologist, conservationist, and ethologist Birutė Galdikas. It is the final event in this season’s Distinguished Speaker Series, presented by UBC’s Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences.

In her talk, Curious Orange?, Galdikas transports her audience to the lush rainforests of Borneo, to meet the endangered orangutans. Through personal stories and anecdotes, Galidikas paints a picture of four decades spent in the jungle studying and working closely with orangutans, focusing on the remarkable bond between humans and the endangered primates, gentlest of the great apes. She speaks of love, dedication, and hope for the survival of the species.

Galdikas has been working in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), studying and protecting wild orangutans and forest since 1971. Galdikas is concerned with wild orangutan behaviour, the development of orangutan conservation programs, and the re-introduction of captured individuals into the wild. She established the first orangutan rehabilitation and release program in Kalimantan.

Galdikas is often referred to as the third in the trio of primatologists called "The Trimates" along with Jane Goodall and the late Dian Fossey, who were all mentored and encouraged by the late Louis Leakey. She is a professor in the archaeology department at Simon Fraser University.

Curious Orange? takes place Monday, April 7, 7 p.m. at the Kelowna Community Theatre, 1375 Water St., Kelowna. The event is free and open to the public, with online registration at: Seating is limited and registration is recommended.

Visit for more information.


Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Renowned arctic activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier speaks to Vernon audience

World-renowned arctic activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier spoke to a Vernon audience Wednesday night about the realities of the Arctic, where Inuit today face profound challenges to their environment, their economy, their health and their cultural well-being.

Her presentation at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre was the second in this season's UBC Distinguished Speaker Series.

"We in the Arctic have been subject to the most dramatic environmental effects of globalization," says Watt-Cloutier, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for her advocacy work in global climate change. "Arctic communities have benefited the least from industry yet are carrying the brunt of industry."

Watt-Cloutier notes that as a result of globalization, northern Indigenous Peoples and Inuit have experienced rapid change to their traditional way of life over a very short period – and the change has come with dramatic consequences.

"It gives new meaning to the term going from ice age to space age," she says. "The change has happened within the span of my lifetime, and it is often the root of the challenges and dependencies that we now face in the Arctic.

"Historical traumas that have happened in our history have eroded the Indigenous sense of identity, our self-worth and lessened our ability to think and act for ourselves, and these in turn have translated into monumental health and social challenges for our people. These challenges are all too often misunderstood as an inability to adapt to a modern world – and that couldn't be further from the truth – in fact, adaptation is our strength."

Watt-Cloutier believes the solution to climate change and the preservation of a healthy arctic and global community can be achieved by understanding the world's connectivity, and by refocusing the international conversation on the environment from economy to humanity.

"I'm confident the world will come together if we can understand how truly connected we are," says Watt-Cloutier. "We're learning more and more just how expensive it is becoming to be losing the cooling system – the air conditioner if you will – for the planet. And eventually inaction will cost more than action. Soon the excuse 'it's too expensive to change' will no longer be accepted. It will be too expensive not to."

Northern Indigenous peoples will be key to this movement, says Watt-Cloutier, as their knowledge and wisdom of the land and its history will have a large role to play in the solution.

"Northern Indigenous peoples – Inuit and First Nations alike – are the ground truthers of the global environment of change, and for decades now, we've been the one to experience these changes first hand. For us, these are not just environmental issues – they are first and foremost about the health of individuals, families, communities, environment and wildlife.

"Every level of the governance system in the north has to be mobilized to ensure Indigenous knowledge and wisdom is the foundation of all sustainable economic endeavours."

Based in Nunavut, Watt-Cloutier is an Officer of the Order of Canada. She is also the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Aboriginal Achievement Award, the UN Champion of the Earth Award, and the prestigious Norwegian Sophie Prize. Under her leadership, she and 62 fellow Inuit from Canada and Alaska launched the world's first international legal action on climate change, with a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

-- 30 --

Wade Davis

Explorer Wade Davis shares his experiences at Distinguished Speaker Series event

Wade Davis – ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker – shared his vivid photography and captivating stories of global exploration with a capacity crowd Wednesday night, challenging the audience to contemplate the question of what it truly means to be human and to be alive.

His presentation at the Kelowna Community Theatre was the first in this season's UBC Distinguished Speaker Series.

"When the 7,000 cultures of the world respond to the question of what it means to be human and alive, they do so in 7,000 different voices and those answers collectively become our human repertoire in dealing with the challenges that confront us as a species for the ensuing centuries," said B.C.-born Davis.

Davis notes that rediscovering a new appreciation for the diversity of the human spirit as expressed by culture, is among the central challenges of our times.

"Together the myriad cultures of the world make up an intellectual, social, and spiritual web of life that envelopes the planet and is important to the well-being of the planet, as is the biological web of life that you know so well as the biosphere," said Davis.

"You can think of this cultural web of life as being an ‘ethnosphere’ – the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, ideas and intuitions, myths and possibilities, since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity's great legacy. It is a symbol of all we have achieved and the promise of all we can achieve as a wildly creative and innovative species.

"Just as the biological web of life has been severely impacted by the loss of habitat and the loss of plants and animal life, so too has the ethno sphere, but at a far greater rate."

Language loss is a great indicator of this.

"Of the 7,000 languages spoken the day you were born, more than half are not being taught to children, meaning they're on the road to extinction. Imagine no means or ability to pass on the wisdom of your ancestors or anticipate the promise of your descendants. On average, every two weeks, some elder in some culture passes away and carries with him or her into the grave the last syllables of the ancient tongue."

Davis concluded his talk stressing that culture is far beyond the songs a person sings, the clothes they wear, and the god they pray to. It is vital to Earth’s health, species survival, and the progression of the collective human journey.

"If there is one thing that anthropology teaches -- and this is the central lesson of this presentation -- it's that culture is not trivial; it is not decorative. It is the body of moral and ethical values that every society places around each individual to keep at bay the barbaric heart history teaches us that, sadly, lie within every human being."

Davis is a well-published scholar and Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. Named by the society as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as "a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet, and passionate defender of all of life's diversity."

-- 30 --