Dr. Galdikas' parents emigrated to Canada from Lithuania as wartime refugees. Growing up in Toronto and then studying at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Galdikas has since devoted her life to the study and protection of orangutans in Indonesia, where she established a rehabilitation centre and refuge for orphaned orangutans in 1971. An IMAX 3D film, Born to Be Wild, chronicling Dr. Biruté ongoing work in the rainforests of Borneo, has just been released in North America.
While in Lithuania, Dr. Galdikas - already an Officer of the Order of Canada (1995) - was awarded a Lithuanian State Honour, the Order of Merit, by Her Excellency Dalia Grybauskaité, President of the Republic.
Following a public lecture at Vytautas Mangnus University in Kaunas, where Dr. Galdikas is a seasonal professor (she also teaches at UBC and Simon Fraser University), Dr. Galdikas led a tree planting ceremony on the grounds of the University's Botanical Gardens. Fifty oak trees were planted. This particular species of increasingly rare oak is among the oldest varieties in Europe, and is an important symbol of Lithuanian nationhood and folklore. The acorns from the tropical / Indonesian version of the oak tree are also an important food source for the endangered orangutans cared for by Dr. Galdikas and her foundation.
Canada's Chargé d'áffaires in Vilnius, Kevin Hamilton, was invited to plant the first of these oaks on behalf of the Embassy of Canada, to mark Dr. Galdikas' enduring connections both to Canada and to her Lithuanian heritage. In his remarks during the ceremony, Mr. Hamilton paid tribute the work of Dr. Galdikas over a forty-year career devoted to the conservation and the protection of this endangered species.
One of the most famous National Geographic cover photos, depicting Dr. Galdikas' young son bathing with an orphaned baby orangutan (June, 1980)
Dr. Galdikas receives the Order of Merit from Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaité, alongside VLNUS / Egle Jurkeviciene and Kevin Hamilton, Chargé d'affaires.
Kevin Hamilton plants an oak tree at the Vytautas Mangnus University Botanical Gardens, Kaunas.