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.

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.


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

Birutė Galdikas

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

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.

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Alan Rinehart

Alan Rinehart

Concert and discussion will feature early Spanish guitar music

What: Minds and Music concert series
Who: Alan Rinehart, performer, teacher, and music editor
When: 2 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 28
Where:  University Centre ballroom, room UNC 200, University Centre, 3272 University Way, UBC’s Okanagan campus, Kelowna

The 2012/2013 Minds and Music concert series kicks off on November 28 with Alan Rinehart, a world-renowned performer, teacher, and music editor.

The concert and discussion features early Spanish guitar music of the 16th to early 19th centuries. Rinehart will make an encore appearance at Minds and Music on January 23.

“It is particularly exciting for me to be able to present the first two concerts in the context of the history of the guitar in Spain and Latin America,” says Rinehart. “The guitar has long been associated with Spain and South America, but most people don’t realize how far back that association reaches.”

The first concert will be in three sections, starting with the quietly majestic and ethereal court music of the 16th century through the melodically appealing baroque period and into the great classical golden age of the early 19th century, notes Rinehart.

“The second concert in January will feature some better known concert works by Albeniz, Tarrega (Spain), and some of the wonderful repertoire from South America by Brazilian Heitor Villa Lobos, Paraguayan Agustin Barrios, and Argentina’s Maximo Pujol,” he adds.

The organizer of the series, Manuela Ungureanu, says Rinehart’s appearances at UBC’s Okanagan campus compliments other upcoming events hosted by the Minds and Music concert series: The Year of the Guitar, including a recital with celebrated guitarist Daniel Bolshoy on March 8, 2013.

Minds and Music concert series aims to present the world’s finest music by renowned performers, and put it all into a contemporary context through informal lectures by faculty and artists about the music, its past, and how it relates to the present. The series, which is made possible through the Irving K. Barber Endowment, is free and open to the public.

For information on the Minds and Music concert series, including upcoming events, visit To learn more about Rinehart visit


Wade Davis

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.”

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Anwar Hossen, a PhD candidate at UBC's Okanagan campus, has received the 2010 Jawaharlal Nehru Humanitarian Award. The award is given each year by the Centre for India and South Asia Research, part of the Institute for Asian Research at UBC's Vancouver campus.

Anwar Hossen, a PhD candidate at UBC's Okanagan campus, has received the 2010 Jawaharlal Nehru Humanitarian Award. The award is given each year by the Centre for India and South Asia Research, part of the Institute for Asian Research at UBC's Vancouver campus.

The Centre for India and South Asia Research has awarded the 2010 Nehru Humanitarian Award to UBC Okanagan doctoral student M. Anwar Hossen, for his research into water policy and governance in rural Bangladesh.

This award is given annually to the UBC master’s degree or PhD student with the most promising research on a topic related to South Asia.

“This award is very significant for Anwar,” says John Wagner, assistant professor of anthropology in the Community, Culture and Global Studies Unit, and Hossen’s supervisor. “All UBC graduate students from either campus who are working on any topic related to South Asia, regardless of discipline, are eligible to apply for the award. That Anwar was selected highlights the importance of the research he is doing and recognizes the dedication he brings to his work.”

Wagner and Hossen share an interest in how political decisions create winners and losers. In this case, the biggest losers are the rural people who reside in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Basin area in Bangladesh – the focus of Hossen’s research and also the area where he grew up.

Hossen asserts that water is a human right that should be recognized and protected by governments and decision makers.

“If you have no access to water, than many other recognized human rights are also violated,” says Hossen. “Without water, people’s livelihoods are disrupted. They cannot grow food, and often become displaced, which means they also cannot access shelter, education or healthcare.”

The Ganges-Brahmaputra Basin encompasses several different countries including, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Eighty per cent of Bangladesh lies in the flood plain, which means that decisions to alter and use water in surrounding countries affect the amount of water flowing into Bangladesh. This creates regular alternating floods and water shortages. Added to these ecological disasters are the human effects of displaced people and border violence.

Hossen believes that for an effective water policy to be created and adopted, all bordering countries need to work together.

“These countries are not all equal,” says Hossen. “Some have more power than others, but social and environmental problems are not bound by borders, so it is in the best interest of all affected countries to create a governance practice that protects the water rights of people who depend on them.”

Hossen’s research has included analysing government documents, legislation and international agreements, as well as studying archival and statistical information.

This spring, he will head to South Asia to conduct field research in the rural community of Shakrail, Bangladesh. He hopes his work will improve policy and governance for the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and lead to a more stable basin community.

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Student researcher Chara DeVolder visited remote Papua New Guinea villages to help preserve endangered Indigenous languages.

Student researcher Chara DeVolder visited remote Papua New Guinea villages to help preserve endangered Indigenous languages.

Chara DeVolder is helping preserve an Indigenous language by putting it into written form for the first time. The fourth-year anthropology student at UBC’s Okanagan campus spent two months this summer in a remote village in Papua New Guinea (PNG), researching how words are created—the morphology—and how sentences are formed—the syntax— in the Kala language.

Under the direction of UBC researchers and anthropologists John Wagner and Christine Schreyer, DeVolder assisted in working with elders and community leaders from six villages to create a writing system for their language which, until very recently, was entirely oral. She spent the rest of the summer preparing the first draft of a dictionary that she plans to send back to the villages this fall for review.

“There are so many different languages in PNG that a common language was needed to communicate amongst one another easily,” says DeVolder. “That language is called Tok Pisin. But the problem is that younger generations are learning Tok Pisin instead of their native languages, and because there was no standard alphabet or writing system, elders worried their native languages could eventually be lost, along with all the traditional knowledge that is embedded within them.”

DeVolder’s study of morphology showed the Kala language classifies plants and animals through the use of morphemes (parts of words that have meaning). For example, most fish names start with “i”, most trees start with “e”, and most birds start with “mã”. These prefixes express what kind of plant or animal it is, while the rest of the word is usually a description of the species. So the fish name “imbiritambogadi” literally means “fish that has spear eyes.”

The language preservation initiative began after Professor Wagner, who has been doing research in PNG for more than a decade, was approached by village elders about their language concerns. He contacted Schreyer, who specializes in linguistics research and endangered language preservation, to see if she was interested in the project. DeVolder has taken a number of Schreyer’s classes and jumped at the chance to do undergraduate work with the pair in PNG.

“What I think made this project really special is that we didn’t go into these villages and say, ‘I think this is what you need to do,’” reflects DeVolder. “It was the people from the villages who approached John and said ‘these are our concerns; are you able to help?’”

DeVolder says the researchers met with everyone from the community and formed a committee with at least one man and women from each village. “People were so welcoming and grateful,” she says. “That made me feel like this project really meant something special.”

Before they left, the UBC researchers brought together local teachers, committee members, and anyone else who was interested in the writing system from all six villages and held a workshop on the written language and developing language curricula materials.

“This isn’t just something we did and handed over; we helped them learn how to use it and teach it and we provided them with some materials and tools so they could immediately begin teaching, learning and preserving the language,” DeVolder says.

DeVolder says her experience in PNG made a greater impression than she ever could have dreamed.

“It was so different there. We had to take a two-hour boat ride across the ocean to get to the village,” she says. “I had to walk down a beach and climb a tree to get cell phone reception. We cooked over a fire. I planted banana trees, dug up potatoes and walked around barefoot.”

After graduating in 2011 with her Bachelor of Arts degree, DeVolder wants to find a career that will allow her to continue working with people and their languages.