The People

The Orangutan Conservancy is run by a group of dedicated individuals who come from a variety of backgrounds, but share a true passion to save Southeast Asia’s only great ape.


Dr. Raffaella Commitante is OC’s President. She joined Orangutan Conservancy in 2007. Previously she had been living in Borneo working with the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation at their facility in East Kalimantan (Samboja Lestari).  She received her Master’s Degree from California State University, Fullerton where she now teaches in the Division of Anthropology/Evolutionary Anthropology.  She also occasionally teaches at Fullerton College.  She received her PhD in Biological Anthropology from The University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.  Raffaella, along with Steve Unwin of Chester Zoo, England is lead facilitator and creator of the Orangutan Conservancy/Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group (OC/OVAG).  Since returning from the field, Raffaella has been traveling back to Indonesia or Malaysia every year to run the OC/OVAG workshops.  In 2019, she will be running the 11th workshop.  The workshops bringing together veterinarians and other experts from abroad and Southeast Asia began in 2009.


Eric DePalma – Coordinator He graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a B.A. in Anthropology. He is an officer of the Association for Primate Evolutionary Studies (A.P.E.S) at CSUF and was fortunate enough to attend the Southern California Primate Research Forum 2019. He recently graduated with an M.A. in Evolutionary Anthropology from California State University, Fullerton.

Frankie Onizuka – Coordinator
After graduating from California State University, Fullerton with a B.A. in Anthropology in 2019, Frankie continued her education at CSUF, pursuing a Masters degree in Evolutionary Anthropology. She plans to complete her thesis in Summer 2021. Along with evolutionary anthropology, Frankie has a great passion for graphic design, ornithology, and wildlife conservation.

Board of Directors

Dr. Meredith Bastian in the field. Standing under a large tree.

Dr. Meredith Bastian
Dr. Bastian began her work with orangutans in 2003 as a PI and Field Site Director & Researcher at Duke University. During this time, she conducted extensive fieldwork at two wild orangutan research sites within Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. The research focused on the geographically variable innovative behavior and feeding ecology in the wild populations of Pongo pygmaeus. She also set up, directed, and managed the Sungai Lading Orangutan Project for 2.5 years. Bastian received her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology and Anatomy with a minor in Biology from Duke University where she completed her dissertation on the “Effect of riverine dispersal barrier on cultural similarity in wild Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wormbii).” Dr. Bastian has been the Curator of Primates at Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute since 2014 and is now transitioning to a new position, as Recruiting Editor at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). At the Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, she acted as the direct supervisor of the Primate Unit, along with heading the research within the unit. She was in charge of overseeing the collection of apes, Old World Monkeys and lemurs and also held responsibility for the Great Ape House, Think Tank, Gibbon Ridge, Lemur Island, and the O-line which is an arboreal cable system that allows orangutans to travel between the Great Ape House and Think Tank.  Learn More>>

Betty R. Dunbar: Co-Treasurer 
Betty served on event working committees for both OC and PASA.  She has been passionate about animals and their wild spaces all her life.  As a docent at the Los Angeles Zoo for 32 years she served as Docent Chairman and, as such, a member of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) Board of Trustees for two years while overseeing 500 docents and numerous educational programs and committees.   She also served as Chairman of the Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents (AZAD) international conference hosted by the Los Angeles Zoo in 2012.  She also served on AZAD’s first national conference in 1987 also hosted by the Los Angeles Zoo.  She held several leadership positions in Docent committees and as a delegate to AZAD conferences representing GLAZA’s Docent Program.  Since 1964 she worked in various administrative and management position in the software industry; since 1982 as Vice President, co-owner and security officer of a software development corporation.  She was corporate representative at numerous national and international computer conferences since the 1960s.  Betty also serves as OC’s co-treasurer.

Juanita KempeCo-Treasurer
Juanita is a very active board member of the Orangutan Conservancy.  Upon graduation from UCLA Juanita went into the garment business where she spent 25 years as a designer, patternmaker and dress manufacturer. In 1987 she became a docent at the Los Angeles Zoo where she currently gives tours, not only to elementary school children, but also to college anthropology students.  She lectures on primates and does behavioral research at the zoo.  In 1992 she took her first trip to see orangutans in the wild and has been working on their behalf ever since.  She is currently the co-treasurer of the Orangutan Conservancy and does community outreach for the organization.

Dr. Anne Russon
Anne is a Professor of Psychology at Glendon College, York University, Toronto.  Since 1989, she has conducted scientific research on orangutan intelligence and behavior in the forests of Indonesian Borneo.  She has served as a scientific advisor for several orangutan documentaries and orangutan support organizations (e.g., Alchemy Films, New Zealand Natural History Unit; Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation–Indonesia, Orangutan Conservancy-USA) and is the Executive Director of the Borneo Orangutan Society of Canada. Since 2009, she has been studying the behaviour of wild orangutans in Kutai National Park, E Kalimantan.

Dr. Robert Shumaker 
Robert is an evolutionary biologist who specializes in the study of behavior and cognition. He has worked in the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) community for nearly 30 years.  Born and raised in the Washington D. C. metropolitan area, he started his career at the Smithsonian National Zoo as a volunteer animal keeper.  During his 20 year tenure there, Dr. Shumaker worked as an animal keeper, curator, biologist, exhibit designer, and scientist.  He spent several years at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa as the senior scientist supervising all research with orangutans.  In 2010 he moved to the Indianapolis Zoo and currently serves as the President and CEO. Dr. Shumaker has been a faculty member at George Mason University and Drake University, and an affiliate faculty member at Iowa State University. Currently, he is an external research associate at the Krasnow Institute, and an adjunct professor at Indiana University.  Dr. Shumaker has authored or co-authored numerous scientific publications, books, and articles for the popular press.  His work has been featured in such media outlets as National Geographic, NPR, the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, PBS, and the BBC. Dr. Shumaker has authored or co-authored numerous scientific publications, books, and articles for the popular press.  Dr. Shumaker serves on the science advisory board of the Balikpapan Orangutan Society (BOS) which is based in Indonesia, in the same capacity for BOS Canada in Toronto, and as a board member of the Orangutan Conservancy, based in the United States. He is internationally recognized as an expert on orangutan behavior and cognition.

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Barbara Shaw – Biography to come

Emeritus Board

  • Norm Rosen (1932-2020) – As the Great Ape Coordinator for the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), Norm is well recognized for his results-oriented conservation work. He organized a Bonobo Conservation Workshop, held in Inuyama, Japan in November 1999. Norm organized the Uganda Chimpanzee Population and Habitat Viability Analysis (PHVA) workshop (1997), Mountain Gorilla PHVA (1998), International Orangutan Conference (1994) and a workshop for great ape sanctuaries which led to the formation of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, of which he is Founder and Board Member.  Norm founded the Southern California Primate Research Forum and taught Primate Behavior and Great Ape Conservation at California State University, Fullerton. Prior to his conservation career, Norm worked for 25 years as an executive in the publishing field. Norm is also Chairman of the Orangutan Conservancy.  Norm’s degrees include: USC, AB, MLA Anthropology Los  Angeles Valley College-AA California State University, Fullerton  Anthropology-MLA UCL, Doctorate program in Primatology.  He is President of the Southern California Primate Research Forum, a Board member of Lola Bonobo, and Adjunct faculty at Calif State University. Fullerton-19 years, and President of Hermosa Historical Society.
  • Roger Nelson
  • Shirley Randolph
  • Michael Sowards
  • Wayne Sowards

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Honorary Patrons

Jane Goodall, PhD, CBE, has studied chimpanzees for more than 40 years and is credited with popularizing the modern notion of “conservation.” In 1977 she founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) to conserve primate habitat; foster positive relationships among people, the environment, and animals; and promote activities that ensure the well-being of chimpanzees and other animals, both wild and in captivity. Among her many books are In the Shadow of Man (1971) and A Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey (1999).

Edward O. Wilson, PhD, is the author of two Pulitzer Prize-winning books, On Human Nature (1978) and The Ants (1990) and is the recipient of the 1977 National Medal of Science, the Gold Medal of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (1990) and the Audubon Medal of the National Audubon Society (1995).  He serves on the Board of Directors of the Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and the American Museum of Natural History.

Djamaludin Suryohadikusumo is the former Minister of Forestry in Indonesia who established many protective regulations and enforced them. He continues his conservation and protection efforts today by serving as a patron of the BOSF in Indonesia and by serving with the Gibbon Foundation. He was instrumental in detaching the Mawas region from the production forest designation.

Suwanna B. Gauntlett played a pivotal role in founding WildAid, an animal welfare and conservation group that is widely regarded as one of the most effective in Asia. A lifelong environmentalist, Gauntlett has dedicated her life to saving wildlife and forests. Gauntlett helped support the highly acclaimed ‘Operation Amba’ program that brought the Siberian tiger back from the brink of extinction in the mid-90’s, and founded the Gauntlett Group LLC, an environmental consulting firm dedicated to helping corporations including Nike, Pfizer and Alcoa Fujicoa to reduce pollution in operations worldwide.