Hope for orangutans lies with youth

Primatologist visits Victoria to open Imax film

Biruté Mary Galdikas

Biruté Mary Galdikas raises the microphone to her lips again and again.

Her patience and passion know no bounds as schoolchildren pepper her with questions from their seats in the Victoria Imax theatre. They’ve just watched Born To Be Wild, a newly released Imax documentary film in which Galdikas co-stars.

Several youngsters excitedly wave their hands in the air, hoping the world’s leading orangutan expert will hear their question next.

Galdikas sees their curiosity about the orangutans, which she has been trying to save for 40 years, as a silver lining to the dark clouds looming over the furry red animals considered close to extinction.

“It gives me hope for the future,” said the primatologist, who divides her time between the Borneo rain forest and teaching at Simon Fraser University.

The 45-minute big-screen masterpiece, narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, tells the stories of two women who have spent a lifetime helping young orphaned animals. The movie is as heartwarming as it is educational, ideal for school-age children.

The cameras follow Galdikas’s work at a Borneo sanctuary where more than 300 young orangutans are being raised for eventual release into the wild.

As the rain forests are eradicated to make way for palm tree plantations, adult orangutans are killed as nuisance pests for eating palm shoots and fruit. Their babies are kept or sold as pets.

Today there are an estimated 6,500 orangutans left in Sumatra and 40,000 in Borneo, compared to one million 30 years ago, said Galdikas, considered one of three “ape angels” alongside Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.

When one child in the audience asks how orangutans can be saved, Galdikas implores the youth to have their parents check food ingredient labels for palm oil, which is harvested on the plantations.

It’s questions such as these that inspire Galdikas, almost as much as her orangutans.

“I hope it does reach the next generation,” she says of her message. “It’s absolutely critical. We (adults) are going to be gone and they are going to be running the world.”

Born To Be Wild continues at the Victoria Imax until April 19. For showtimes and admission information, visit imaxvictoria.com. For more on orangutans, visit www.orangutan.org.

emccracken@vicnews.com

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