A portrait of primatologist Biruté Mary Galdikas and her long career studying Bornean orangutans.
With a magazine-style format (the pages are crowded with sidebars), the book uplifts the life and work of a lesser-known conservation scientist. Beginning with Galdikas’ childhood in Toronto as the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants, the narrative quickly moves on to her start in primatology. When Silvey dives into Galdikas’ exploits in Indonesian Borneo, the author emphasizes Galdikas’ relentlessness despite constant challenges. Curiously, Galdikas’ controversial rehabilitation program for captive orangutans is depicted in near-hagiographic terms. Most glaring is the book’s white-savior tone, in which Silvey problematically represents Indigenous peoples and Galdikas’ paternalism is thinly veiled. In a profile of Toronto’s High Park, the author describes the city’s Indigenous peoples (who are still very much alive today) in a section labeled “Ancient History.” In a similar vein, Galdikas’ shocking “rule for life” is emblazoned across a photograph of her orangutan center’s brown-skinned staff: “Remember that in camp the orangutans come FIRST, science second, local staff and people third, and we, the foreign researchers, LAST.” A white scientist ranking “locals”—whose homeland she views imperiously as a place where “time had stood still”—so low in her hierarchy is offensive.
Audacious, yes, but not in a good way. (foreword, extended resources, author’s note) (Biography. 8-12)