SAVING LIVES: Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas with a baby orangutan (Photo: Drew Fellman)
Simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, the gorgeously shot IMAX documentary "Born to be Wild 3D" follows the efforts of two amazing women, Kenya-based Dr. Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick, who rescues baby elephants whose mothers have been killed by poachers for their ivory tusks, and Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, who saves baby orangutans orphaned by the destruction of their Borneo rain forest habitat by poaching, palm oil plantations and illegal logging.
Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film, opening April 8, is directed by David Lickley, a biologist-turned-filmmaker with more than 30 nature and science documentaries on his resume. "I love animals, and I love stories that involve real people doing heroic things, so this was one of those perfect subjects. The animals are compelling, intelligent and affectionate, and our two human characters are awe-inspiring," says Lickley. "Their stories needed to be told to celebrate their extraordinary accomplishments, and more importantly, to raise awareness about the difficulties these animals face in the wild."
Lickley (pictured above) and his crew spent a month each in Borneo and Kenya to shoot the separate stories and blend them into one narrative. "There are some differences in their approach and the situations they face, but enough similarities to allow us to weave the two stories together. In the end, we wanted the audience to have a strong emotional attachment to the animals and to the women, and to go away with a sense of hope and purpose," says the director, whose greatest challenges were posed by the requirements of the IMAX format. "We shipped 30,000 pounds of equipment by plane, ferry, truck, and small boats into the remote jungles of Borneo. We built six-story-high scaffolding to get the cameras up to orangutan height in the canopy. We mounted the camera on the back of Land Rovers to be able to follow wild elephants in Kenya," all to get as close as possible without intimidating the animals.
Lickley's favorite shot from the Borneo segment involves an orangutan swinging onto a tree, which then crashes and nearly hits him. "It was totally unexpected and really impressive. I also love the elephant waterhole shot with the dust and the huge herd all milling about the new orphans to greet them. It was moving to film, and to watch now, later."
Galdikas, who went to Borneo to study orangutans and wound up freeing ones illegally kept as pets, has saved more than 400 orangutans endangered by habitat loss and returned them to the wild, and currently cares for 330 orphans at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine. "Orangutans share many characteristics with humans, including similar emotions and high cognitive abilities," she points out. "As great apes, they are also one of humankind's closest living relatives, sharing 97 percent of their genetic material with us. In the wild they are solitary or semi-solitary as adults, spending 60 percent of their day foraging and eating in the forest canopy. They are mainly ripe fruit-eaters, benign and gentle." Babies are especially fragile and in need of care. "They cling to their mothers for the first five years of life. They are delicate and sensitive." The main difference separating them from human babies "is that orangutans never learn spoken language and never become truly bipedal."
But they are capable of relationships: the ex-orphans living on a reserve at Camp Leakey recognize Galdikas when she visits. "The fact that they might come over and sit by me or lean into me is a deep expression of our long-term relationship. Or they might take my hand as we walk."
Galdikas hopes that "Born to be Wild" inspires people to "adopt" an orangutan infant at the Care Center by becoming a Foster Friend or Parent at www.orangutan.org, making a donation to the Orangutan Foundation International, or visiting Borneo to see the orangutans for themselves. She also asks that people eliminate their use of palm oil products. "We must urge palm oil companies to become sustainable and not expand any further into tropical rain forests. We must urge the palm oil industry to become more efficient and less wasteful. The Indonesian government has declared a two-year moratorium on the passing out of future palm oil concessions, which is a major breakthrough both for orangutan conservation and mitigation of climate change," she says, noting that Indonesia is currently the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
Lickley is also hoping the film will motivate viewers to protect the habitats of the creatures it depicts. "The best thing we can do is support organizations like the Sheldrick Trust and the Orangutan Foundation because they not only rescue and return the animals to the wild, they patrol for poaching and in some cases buy up the land to prevent its destruction," he says. "The film is meant to bring the stories of these animals to a wide audience who in turn can both assist the efforts of Biruté and Daphne, and put pressure on governments to protect the animals. Anyone who spends time with both these animals is changed," he adds. "You can't help but look into their eyes and want to help them."