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Environmental Hero

Dr. Gary Shapiro

Green Kids Club continues to be inspired by those individuals that have made the environment and animal conservation a priority. With that in mind, we wanted to highlight some of the people that inspire us in a new Environmental Heroes spotlight.

Gary Shapiro, PhD (President/Co-founder) leads Orang Utan Republik Foundation (OURF) in response to the education needs underscoring the crisis facing orangutans today. Dr. Shapiro has been invested and involved with orangutans for over 47 years. From teaching symbolic and sign languages to orangutans (the story of Princess!) to studying the freshwater ecology of Borneo, Dr. Shapiro has spent a lot of time in Indonesia. Before OURF, he was also co-founder and vice president of the Orangutan Foundation International from 1986-2004 where he administered and oversaw the activities supporting research and conservation in and around Borneo's Tanjung Puting National Park.

OURF will be presenting its 7th Annual Pongo Environmental Awards and virtual fundraiser on August 15, all online. Check out their website for more information and to join the festivities from the comfort of your couch at home.

GKC: What drew you to do this type of work?

Gary: After I finished teaching symbolic communication skills to a juvenile orangutan at the Fresno City Zoo (1973-1975), I jumped into the world of chimpanzees learning sign language in Oklahoma. I guess I have been fascinated with talking with animals most of my life. But after getting the chance to teach sign language to ex-captive orangutans in the forests of Borneo, I fell in love with the species and also was drawn towards their plight. I was able to co-create the first orangutan advocacy group in the mid-1980s and have been dedicated to saving the species ever since.

GKC: What do you like best about your job?

Gary: I enjoy working with young people who volunteer their time with the Orang Utan Republik. I also like being able to give scholarships to needy Indonesian students who will become advocates for this species in their own country.  Also, being able to help create new organizations in Indonesia that can bring about positive change makes me feel good that I am making a difference.

GKC: What types of challenges do you encounter?

Gary: Besides the difficult job of raising the funds needed to keep our programs going, the challenges of environmental damage to the rainforests and the slowness in changing attitudes and behaviors to improve our global sustainability is ever-present.

GKC: What advice would you give to aspiring, future environmental heroes?

Gary: My advice is to learn as much as you can about the interconnectedness in our global environment and to find something locally that interests and moves you.  Get involved to study that environmental issue of interest or help out an organization that is addressing something of interest. Over time, dig deep into the subject matter and realize that environmental issues are complex and not easy to address. Learn to find allies and partners during your journey to help you achieve bigger goals. Finally, don't give up when things get difficult. Anything worth doing is difficult and takes time. 

For more about the dedicated individuals making an impact at Orang Utan Republik Foundation, check out their team page.

Photo provided by Gary Shapiro
Photo provided by Gary Shapiro
Photo by Juli Yanti
Photo provided by Gary Shapiro

About the author

Lorielle Peterson

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