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15 MINUTES WITH...
Knownas “the old men of the jungle”,
orangutans have a special place in the
heart of Dr Birute Galdikas. For the
last 43 years, the anthropologist has been
tirelessly working to ensure their future on
the planet by rescuing orphaned orangutans
in the remote Tanjong Puting Reserve in
Now the work of Dr G, as she is fondly
known, is the latest “soft adventure” experience
being offered to expedition cruise passengers.
Many of the orphaned orangutans’
mothers have been killed by deforestation. At
Camp Leakey Dr G feeds the orphans with
formula milk, bathes and cuddles them, and
generally cares for the young animals until
they are ready to be released into the wild.
This year cruise passengers have the choice
of three experiences on board Lindblad
Expeditions’ National Geographic Orion to see
the orangutans up close, when Dr G will be
on hand to talk about her work.
Q: When you are talking about saving the
orangutans, do you find cruise passengers
empathise with the plight of the animals?
A: Yes, they seem to empathise greatly with
the orangutans. The orphans have a huge
impact – I have seen passengers cry with joy
and gratitude when they’re with them. One
couple has been back three times.
Q: Do you think offering this kind of
experience to cruise passengers helps wildlife
conser vation? If so, how?
A: Orangutans are their own best
ambassadors. To look into the eyes of one of
our closest relatives on the planet and have
those eyes gaze back at you, unblinking and
serene, as though you were looking into a
mirror of your own soul, has a profound effect
on passengers. It changes their attitudes, at
least while they are on the ship. But I also
believe they take much of that home and it
affects how they view the world afterwards.
Q: What would be your advice to a travel
agent who has a client interested in this
cruise experience? How should an agent
describe its unique merits?
A: When you go on a Lindblad
Expedition to Camp Leakey
and the Care Centre you will
have an absolutely amazing
experience that no other cruise
ship can provide. It is an
exclusive and private experience
that money simply can’t buy,
except through National
Geographic Orion. Other travel
agents have actually tried to
bribe us to get into the Care
Centre (it doesn’t work!). You
will have an intimate, unique experience
that you can’t have at any other place on
the planet. Former US president Bill
Clinton came to see us and was talking
about it for months afterwards.
Q: What is the most satisfying part of
A: Releasing rehabilitated, wild-born, ex-
captive orangutans into the wild and having
them survive and live to an old age in the
forest. An orangutan I released into the wild
in 1971 still comes to Camp Leakey, has
given birth to several offspring and now
Q: Is it possible to adopt an orangutan?
A: Yes, fostering an orangutan at the Care
Centre costs US$100 a year. Many people
have fostered orangutan orphans directly
through the Orangutan Foundation
Q: What were your impressions of former
US president Bill Clinton when he visited
A: We very much enjoyed Mr Clinton’s
visit. He spent two days with
us. He is a warm, articulate,
soft-spoken person who was
ready to give everyone a few
minutes of his time. He was
most impressed by the juvenile
orangutans at the Care Centre
and refused to leave the area.
The orangutans seemed to like
him as well.
Q: Have any other celebrities
visited Camp Leakey?
A: Julia Roberts and Isabella
Rossellini have visited us as well as actress
Stefanie Powers and actor James Cromwell.
Julia Roberts is one of the smartest people
I’ve met. She has an unbelievably quick
wit and a strong sense of humour. Stefanie
Powers and Isabella Rossellini are true
conser vationists who helped us directly, and
Stefanie has become a good friend. The First
Lady of Indonesia was gracious, unassuming
and more beautiful than her pictures. She
asked that we name an orangutan after her
husband, the President of Indonesia!
We meet the inspirational ‘Dr G’,
a guest speaker with Lindblad
Expeditions who has saved the
lives of countless orphaned
orangutans in Borneo.
Words Teresa Ooi
CAME TO SEE
US AND WAS
IF FOR MONTHS
15 MINUTES WITH...
mother says to me over the
phone one day. 12 days in the
South Pacific on board Radiance
of the Seas. Her treat. And I think, as I often
do in these situations, what could possibly
Plenty. We haven’t lived together full
time for over a decade, since I was in my late
teens or early 20s. To make matters worse,
we both live alone and are perhaps a little set
in our ways. The two of us sharing a cabin
barely the size of my bedroom for almost
two weeks is a frightening concept. But once
aboard, we both love it. We play trivia four
times a day and win more than we lose. We
sing loudly in the piano bar, drink Bloody
Marys by the pool, eat pancakes and bacon
for breakfast every day. I haven’t had this
much fun with my mother in years.
As the days go on it becomes clear (to
me at least) that while on board we seem
to be joined at the hip. At just shy of 60 my
mother is not particularly old or frail, but
I find myself shadowing her every move,
unable to leave her alone. Am I worried that
she’ll fall overboard? Blow our life savings in
the casino? It quickly becomes exhausting.
If I was travelling with a six-year-old there
would be endless options – I could drop
them off at the kids’ club on the top deck
and barely have to see them again until we
disembarked. Radiance even has an adults’
only area, the Solarium, where I could read
peacefully without the constant shrieking
and splashing and pawing of sticky hands.
But now that I am the child I have no such
luck. There seems little point escaping to the
adults’ only area when she can follow me.
Where are the kindly staff members to take
mother off my hands when I’ve
had enough? Where are the
organised activities to occupy
her while I’m at the spa?
We both become short
tempered in the face of such
Mother seems to have
developed an intense and
rather alarming dislike of other
people, which I don’t remember
from our younger years. One
evening in the dining room,
our waiter (clearly having
forgotten her name) addresses
her as darling and I fear she
may leap from her seat and
pummel him with bread rolls. I am no better.
After a particularly fractious morning I
lose my cool at lunch and come to the very
vocal conclusion that people who attempt
to go backwards in the buffet line should
be taken out and shot. We have a day of
rain and retire to the games room for a
spot of Scrabble. In more than 20 years of
playing board games with my mother she
has never once lost, and would frequently
reduce my eight-year-old self to tears over
Cluedo or UpWords. But this time I roundly
thump her by at least 150 points. I am
magnanimous in victory. She storms off
in a huff.
The wheels fall off somewhere around
day six. We have a huge fight and spend the
next two days not speaking to each other.
I make the fatal mistake of storming out
of the cabin after the argument, meaning
I am forced to stalk the decks while she
orders room service and watches movies in
bed. I set up camp in the champagne bar,
returning to the cabin only when I know
she will be asleep.
But this fight, as all fights in our 30-year
history, eventually comes to an end. And
there’s a valuable lesson to be learned: when
both you and your mother are adults it is
physically (and psychologically) impossible
to spend every minute of the day together.
Maybe it’s not just the kids who need their
own special area on a cruise ship. The big
kids could do with one too.
‘The wheels fall off around day six. We have a huge fight
and spend the next two days not speaking to each other.’
No matter how big the ship, it can feel like a
very small place when you’re cruising with your
mother, as Lucy Jones discovered.
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