Janie Dubman

For the love of orangutans

September 24, 2009

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Janie Dubman is back in class at the Burnaby campus. But her heart is still more than 12,000 km away in Kalimantan, Borneo, where she spent the summer at SFU primatologist Birute Galdikas’ orangutan rescue centre.

"I’m constantly thinking about them," says the fourth-year biology student, who filed weekly columns sharing her experiences with readers of The Vancouver Sun and other newspapers across the country.

Reader interest in the rescue centre was so great Dubman is now looking for volunteers and money to start an SFU-based Canadian branch of Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), the U.S. nonprofit Galdikas established to support the centre.

Dubman has always dreamed of going to the rainforest. Growing up, she idolized the primatologist protégés of paleontologist Louis Leakey: mountain gorilla researcher Dian Fossey and chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall.

She enrolled in SFU’s ecology program after high school and was delighted to hear that a third Leakey protégé, Galdikas, was teaching here last fall. She quickly signed up, and "from the moment she started talking I thought ‘this woman is my hero.’"

Galdikas consented to let the young ecologist volunteer at the orangutan centre, provided she paid her own flight and room and board.

The centre is a refuge for some 300 orangutans, most of them young orphans rescued from the illegal pet trade or displaced by rainforest deforestation. Most of them are rehabilitated and reintroduced into the wild.

Dubman spent much of her time taking care of the baby red apes. "I knew, but I was still amazed by how incredibly similar to us orangutans are," she says. "You come to love them as if they are your own children."

She plans to return to the orangutan centre next summer.

To volunteer or contribute to a new OFI Canada chapter, email Dubman at


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Kelly Nylander

I read your article in the Sun with interest. I'm interested in volunteering time at the centre.


dear birute,

i am a big fan of your work and i am 9 years old!!

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