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Paul Sparks, Sino-Canadian International College, Guangxi University, Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for Reading Lessons...



Reading: The Wild Women of Bornea

INSTRUCTIONS: Read the following article and answer the following questions.

“I was born to study orangutans,” says Birute Galdikas, the ‘Wild Woman of Borneo’.

For the sake of her beloved animals, American-born Birute - author of Reflections of Eden - has given up all conveniences of modern life.  Over her 23 years in the rain forests of Borneo, she’s lost her American husband, married a native and mothered over 100 orangutans.

Why has Birute given up so much for these strange creatures of the jungle?

“The fascination is in their eyes,” she explains.

When Birute arrived in Borneo in 1971, little was known about the huge “people of the forest”,  except that their arboreal lifestyle made studying them exceptionally difficult.

“Everyone told me it couldn’t be done,” says Birute.

For months she feared they were right, as she trekked painfully through the jungle, catching only rare glimpses of her prey in the high trees above her head.

Then the ape Birute dubbed Georgina came down to the ground.

“That was a very special moment.  She just looked, and looked, and looked, really drinking us in, trying to see just what we were.” That was the moment when Birute realised she could, after all, begin her study.

She has now devoted 23 years to her work.  But life is tough in the Borneo jungle where she has made her home.

Humidity is frequently at 100 per cent and everything rots within weeks.  Then there are the snakes, the insects, and the mosquitoes, the sores that don’t heal and the frequent inexplicable fevers.  But despite the hardships, Birute has stuck it out.

“One of the hardest things to cope with initially was the sheer isolation.  I wasn’t on the phone until December 1991, and most of the time I simply didn’t know what was going on in the world - I managed to miss the ‘70s completely.

“And a diet of white rice and sardines does get extremely monotonous after a while.”

Perhaps the hardest burden to bear - literally - were the dozens of baby orangutans to whom Birute has been “mother” over the past two decades.

Even in the 1970s it was illegal for the red-haired apes to be kept in captivity, but the ban was largely ignored, even by government officials.

In the face of considerable opposition, Birute began a campaign to have captives returned to the wild.

Female orangutans give birth only once every six to eight years, and spend their time with their hairy orange offspring clinging to them for comfort.

So when Birute’s rescued orphans returned with her to camp, they naturally expected her to become their full-time mom.

When she had her own first child, Binti, he fitted right in with his orange “siblings”.

But after eight years of jungle living, Birute’s husband, Rod, had had enough.

“My first marriage was simply a casualty of the fieldwork,” she said.

“I changed, Rod wanted other things, life progressed - it’s not something I particularly regret.”

“Though I do now regret that he took our son back to America with him.  It was inevitable - you can’t educate a child for the modern world in the middle of a jungle.  Although I visited often, and indeed Binti now lives with me - I did miss that day-to-day contact with him which is so important.”

Left alone in the jungle, Birute felt isolated and vulnerable, until she met and married Pak Bohap, one of the native Dayak people.

Used to hunting animals with a blow-pipe, and farming rice, Pak said he would help Birute in her research if she would divide her time between lecture tour abroad, and the life of a traditional Dayak bride.

“I had made my life in Borneo, my parents were very supportive of my decision to remarry, and we have had two children together, Fred and Jane, who are equally comfortable in Borneo and America.

“My husband will not leave his home.  He is a strong man, with work of his own to do, and he does not speak English, so he sees no reason to visit America.”

“But we are happy, and I have no regrets about the way life worked out.”

And Birute is delighted that her work over the past two decades has been so positively received, both in Borneo and abroad.

“I like to think I’ve raised people’s awareness of just how vulnerable orangutans are.

“At around eight years, their average birth interval is probably the longest in the animal world, their populations are highly fragmented, and their juveniles are dependent for a very long period after birth.”

With more than 400 different food types, the orangutans are specially vulnerable to the destruction of their jungle habitat.

“The jungle is just too complex to recreate.  You would have to plant hundreds of different species of trees, and even then populations would take years to bounce back because they breed so slowly.”

But with a wild population of 30,000 (10,000 of which are now living in areas subject to at least some degree of protection), Birute is hopeful the orangutan will survive into the 21st century.

“If nothing else, I would like to think my work had had an impact in fighting the global tide of economic forces which is engulfing us all.”

“When I came to Indonesia, its timber industry was purely local, now it’s worth $five billion a year.  But if they cut down the jungle, they will destroy everything I have worked for.

“I’m now 48, and I hope to spend the rest of my life in Borneo, but unlike Dian Fossey, I am not prepared to die for my apes. She became an African at heart, and her gorillas were her family.

“But much as I love my orangutans, I’m not obsessed by them, and if the work became too dangerous I would have to consider my duty to my family, my children and my friends.”

“I do feel very blessed to have been allowed to spend so much time on my studies.  And even though I miss my apes when I’m away, they are so utterly self-contained I know they will be exactly the same when I return.”

“However, the forests are under such constant threat, that I always fear returning and finding them changed so utterly, that everything will have been destroyed.

PART A:        Scanning

Find the information in the text that correspond to the following questions:

1.  When did Birute Galdikas arrive in Borneo?
2.  What is the rate of humidity in Borneo?
3.  How many orangutans are living in the wild, without protection?   
4.  What is Indonesia’s annual income from timber?
5.  What is Birute’s age?   

PART B:        Comprehension

Write short answers to the following questions:

1.    Why is it considered difficult to study orangutans?

2.    Name 2 hardships Birute faced in the jungle.

3.    What aspect of living in the jungle did Birute find most difficult at first?

4.    What aspect of living in the jungle does she find boring?

5.    What law regarding orangutans has Birute fought hard to enforce?

6.    Why did Birute’s first marriage fail?

7.    Why did her first husband take their son back to America?

8.    What does Birute feel is her major contribution after 20 years of research on

9.    The Borneo government is allowing the jungle to be cut down for its timber.
    How will this affect the orangutans?

10.    How does Birute differ from Diane Fossey?

PART C:        Vocabulary

Read the definitions below.  Then look for words in the text that have the same meaning:

1.      boring   
2.      gives all attention to a particular matter
3.      lives in trees
4.      a failure
5.      dedicated
6.      period between events
7.      named
8.      easily harmed
9.      surrounding
10.    hard to explain

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