History of OFI
Originally called the Orangutan Research and Conservation Project (ORCP), this was the name of the program started in 1971 by Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas and her former husband, Rod Brindamour, in Tanjung Puting National Park (originally Tanjung Puting Reserve). The purpose of the program is the study of the behavior and ecology of wild orangutans as well as the conservation of orangutan populations and their rain forest habitat. Dr. Galdikas received her original moral support from Dr. Louis Leakey for whom she named her base camp (Camp Leakey). Louis Leakey also helped find funding for the program, first from the Wilkie Brothers Foundation, later from the Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society.
During the early years, the ORCP provided the only conservation presence in the area. Galdikas and Brindamour would assist the local forestry department by confiscating orangutans from government officials and others who kept them as pets. Using diplomacy and reason, she was able to convince owners to release the orangutans to her care so that they could be returned to the wild. Since 1971, over 450 orangutans have undergone rehabilitation and release. With the permission of the Indonesian authorities, the ORCP conducted patrols of Tanjung Puting National Park (then Reserve) and assisted the nature conservation authorities in protecting the Park from poachers and illegal loggers. Later the Forestry Department upgraded the Indonesian Nature Conservation Agency and put the Park under its authority. ORCP continued its close collaboration with the Agency in terms of protecting the Park.
The ORCP also enabled Dr. Galdikas to collect over 100,000 hours of observations on wild orangutans documenting their life histories over three generations. Dozens of new insights into orangutan behavior, ecology, and cognitive abilities have emerged from work conducted by the ORCP. The ORCP has served as a base of support to Indonesian and foreign students who have conducted field research on orangutans, gibbons, monkeys, and other animals.
Establishment of OFI
The roots of OFI lie in the ORCP. By the mid ’70s, the behavior and ecological insights gained into the elusive Asian ape began attracting the attention of media and supporters, and a structure was necessary to leverage that attention into real help and action for orangutans and rain forest conservation. Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, with a network of local staff and volunteers began cooperating to expand the projects of the original ORCP to create programs aimed specifically at conservation, rehabilitation, research, and education. A lawyer from the US Justice Department in Washington, D.C., John Beal, visited Camp Leakey in late 1979. After his return to the United States, he helped Galdikas and a few colleagues establish the Orangutan Foundation in Los Angeles, California. The name was later changed to Orangutan Foundation International (OFI). After Beal took courses in foundation and non-profit law, Galdikas and Beal registered OFI as a 501(c)3 public foundation in 1986. OFI is dedicated to research, education, conservation, and forest protection in order to ensure the survival of biologically viable orangutan populations in the wild and the welfare of orangutans, including wildborn ex-captives, wherever they are found.
“The ORCP enabled Dr. Galdikas and her staff to collect over 100,000 hours of observations of wild orangutans, documenting their life histories over three generations.”
After OFI was established, Galdikas asked volunteer Ashley Leiman to establish an Orangutan Foundation chapter in the UK. Orangutan Foundation United Kingdom (OFUK) became a successful organization, helping support OFI’s programs in the field. In 2005 OFUK became an independent organization with Galdikas as its honorary chairperson. OFUK has its own programs with funding from, among others, the European Union.
Subsequently, Galdikas asked Leif Cocks to establish a chapter of OFI in Australia after two previous attempts by other people had fallen through. Cocks established the Australian Orangutan Project (AOP) which is an independent organization. However, AOP has funded both OFI and OFUK projects.
Dr. Galdikas’ husband, Pak Bohap bin Jalan, and a former student, Edy Hendras, established the Orangutan Foundation Indonesia on July 4, 1993 in Pangkalan Bun, Kalimantan Tengah (Central Borneo), Indonesia. The name of this organization is Yayasan Orangutan Indonesia (YAYORIN). It is also independent and has concentrated on educating Indonesians about orangutans and forest conservation as well as sustainable economic activities.
The Biruté Galdikas Ecology and Support Foundation was established in 2008 by Ukis Bank in Vilnius in order to increase awareness of conservation and environmental issues in Lithuania and to support the work of Biruté Mary Galdikas and OFI in Indonesia. Several volunteers from Lithuania have already made their way to Indonesia to directly help OFI’s programs in the field.