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"Born to be Wild" Stars Rescue and Raise Orphaned Animals

Women profiled in IMAX film talk orangutans, elephants, and inspiration

woman orangutans

Born to be Wild

by Michael Sharp

As he narrates the opening scenes of the new IMAX movie, "Born to be Wild", Academy Award-winner Morgan Freeman labels the two main characters as “real-life fairy godmothers.”

Dr. Biruté Galdikas rescues and raises orphaned orangutans in Borneo, and Dame Daphne Sheldrick does the same for young elephants in Kenya. Born to be Wild documents their remarkable work—from rescue to release—in stunning 3-D.

The film premieres nationwide today, April 8.

First things first: What’s it like to share a plate of spaghetti with an orangutan?

Birute Galdikas (BG): Well, they get most of it. You don’t get very much. They get 90 percent; you get 10 percent if you’re lucky. Because for an orangutan, possession is ten tenths of the law. If they take something from you, and they’re holding onto it, it’s now theirs. And they get very indignant if you want it back.

You’ve mentioned that orangutans share 97 percent of their genetic material with humans. What characteristic, what trait, has struck you the most?

BG: What has struck me the most is the total independence of orangutans.  … They have an incredible strength in their souls and in their characters. And I think this is because they live alone in the forest, and they don’t really need anybody else. So they’re very strong creatures, but in their strength is their weakness, because they don’t cooperate with each other, they don’t spend time with each other. With human beings, the reverse is true. Our weakness is our strength, because we need other people. This has allowed for us to cooperate, this has allowed for us to build civilizations. … So that’s what struck me, is their strength of character that comes from their semi-solitary lifestyle.

See "Born to be Wild" in theatres »

Ms. Sheldrick, you’ve said elephants never forget. Can you give me a good example?

DS: Yes, one of our very early orphans is an elephant called Eleanor. … She came back (one day to visit other orphan elephants), and suddenly a man started approaching from far off, and up went her ears, and up went her trunk, and she trumpeted and rushed toward this man, which really alarmed our keepers, because they didn’t know who he was—to them he was just a stranger. And then [Eleanor] put on all the brakes and wrapped her trunk around [the man’s] neck, gave him a wonderful elephant greeting. … And he walked back with her, and our keepers said, ‘Well who are you, that Eleanor knows you?’ And he said, ‘I was her keeper when she was 5 years old.’ And Eleanor was then in her late 30s. She hadn’t seen him for 30-plus years.

There’s a great scene where the elephants are playing with soccer balls. Are the balls their favorite toy?

They’ve got a great big tube from one of these huge great tractors. They love that, but some of them have got little tusks, so they puncture the tube, and they’re quite expensive to buy.  

The soccer ball … they get a little bit bored after a bit. So every now and then, we take the ball away and then produce it again, or produce another colored one. They seem to be able to discern a new one from the old one.  And just little things, sticks and stones, they play with out in the forest.

"They seem to know when humans are happy."

They like playing with their keepers, sitting on them, and showing off for them, and making the men laugh. They’re quite extroverts. They love the audience.

The mud bath. When we open our doors to the public, and they come for just that one hour, and they love showing off in front of the visitors, and causing laughter, and spraying them with mud, and walking up and down. And then charging the kids as though they’re going to---and then, when everyone screams and runs away, they love that. You can literally see them smiling. And then they lie down in front of the children, just to show that they are playing. But they like the reaction of the people, and particularly laughter. They seem to know when humans are happy.

What’s the No. 1 thing you both hope viewers take away from this film?

BG: I hope they take away the fact that orangutans are very similar to us, and for a variety of reasons, deserve not to go extinct. They’re very unique personalities. They’re just very gentle, benevolent, benign creatures. It would be such a pity if they went extinct as populations in the wild. So I hope the general public becomes more aware of what an orangutan actually is … and what magnificent and beautiful creatures they are.

DS: [Elephants are] the animal equivalent of a human, like the dolphins and the whales, and on the same level of intelligence, memory, caring. They’re better than us, because they don’t get corrupted with money. So they’ve got all the good points of humans, like the care, the family relationship, the compassion. Elephants will even help other species in trouble. You just have to stand back and marvel at what absolutely wonderfully intelligent and sophisticated animals they are.

For more on the work of Dr. Biruté Galdikas and Dame Daphne Sheldrick, and ways to help orphaned orangutans and elephants, visit sheldrickwildlifetrust.org and orangutan.org.

Michael Sharp is assistant managing editor of "All Animals", The HSUS's award-winning membership magazine. Subscribe to the magazine»

“As our world expands into theirs, more and more wild animals lose their families, and their very existence on Earth is in danger…”

So go the resonant opening lines of the trailer for the breathtaking new IMAX movie, "Born to be Wild 3D," spoken in the familiar, rich tones of the film’s narrator, the Academy Award®-winning Morgan Freeman.  An inspiring story of love, dedication and the remarkable bond between humans and animals, this film documents orphaned orangutans and elephants and the extraordinary people who rescue and raise them—saving endangered species one life at a time.

Learn more, get tickets »

Stunningly captured in IMAX 3D, "Born to be Wild 3D" is a heartwarming adventure that transports moviegoers into the lush rainforests of Borneo with world-renowned primatologist Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas and across the rugged Kenyan savannah with celebrated elephant authority Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick, as they and their teams rescue, rehabilitate, and return these incredible animals back to the wild.

A virtual adventure for adults and children alike, "Born to be Wild 3D," playing exclusively at IMAX theatres, enables you to roam with elephants, swing with orangutans, and witness animal conservation work first-hand. Teachers and schools can use the film as a larger-than-life field trip. They can bring awareness of these awe-inspiring animals and the need to protect them into their classrooms by downloading the "Born to be Wild 3D" educational materials. They can contact their local IMAX theatre for group sales and ticket information.

Check out these original webisodes detailing the behind-the-scenes adventures of “Born to be Wild 3D.”

 Episode 1: "Borneo"
See how the documentary crew dealt with filming in an off-the-beaten-path rainforest, and how palm oil plantations are endangering the orangutan population.

Episode 2: "Kenya"
Learn about the amazing work of Daphne Sheldrick of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and her fifty-year career rescuing orphaned African elephants.

Episode 3: "Camp Leakey"
Go inside orangutan research and care center Camp Leakey, where a population of great apes have been studied, raised, and rehabilitated by founder Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas.

Episode 4: "Coming Home to Tsavo"
Witness the ins and outs of raising baby elephants, from feeding to sleeping to playtime, and how the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust staff dedicates 24-hour supervision to these young and surprisingly vulnerable creatures.

Episode 5: "Caregivers"
Meet the people who work at Camp Leakey and The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and see their devotion to the orangutans and elephants that they care for.

Episode 6: “Wild” Filmmaking
Follow the film crew as they work with unbearable heat, pouring rain, a 350-pound camera, and numerous untrained animals during the production of “Born To Be Wild 3D.”

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