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'Born To Be Wild' opens at Maritime IMAX

Scott Gargan, Connecticut Post
Updated 8:10 am, Wednesday, April 6, 2011

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Could you imagine taking care of these kids, what with the swinging from trees and trampling over one other?

It's just another day in the life for the parents at Camp Leakey, Indonesia, and the Tsavo East National Park, Kenya, where baby orphaned orangutans, in the former, and elephants, in the latter, are raised before returning to the wild.

Audiences will have the chance to journey to these jungle-sized playpens when "Born To Be Wild" opens at the IMAX Theater at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk on Friday, April 8.

Narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, the film travels to the lush rain forests of Borneo with orangutan expert Birute Mary Galdikas and across the rugged Kenyan savannah with elephant authority Dame Daphne Sheldrick. It is at the rehabilitation centers where Galdikas and Sheldrick rear the babies, most of whom lost their parents to poachers and habitat destruction.

But amid this initial tragedy comes lasting hope, as the foster parents and their teams of trainers feed (from mammoth baby bottles), play with (soccer is a favorite activity) and look after (misbehavior is all too common) the orphaned animals.

"They may look big, but they're just little children," Sheldrick says, as music composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, of the band Devo, plays in the background.

Sheldrick, Galdikas and their staffs help the babies learn to survive in the wild. For the orangutans, that means plenty of climbing practice so they can navigate their jungle environment; for elephants, it means teaching them to socialize so they can fit in with the herd.

However, a question remains up until the film's dramatic conclusion: will they be able to survive once they're released back into their native habitats? As the film demonstrates in so many tender, motherly moments, the babies are in good hands.

Galdikas has been studying orangutans since 1971 when, as a graduate student, she became one of the so called Leakey's Angels, performing groundbreaking field studies of primates. Fifteen years later, she founded the Orangutan Foundation International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of orangutans and their rain forest habitat.

A native of Kenya, Sheldrick was just 3 years old when she adopted her first wild orphan, a baby bushbuck antelope. Over the decades, Sheldrick has raised and rehabilitated orphans of many different species, and perfected the milk formula and husbandry practices needed for infant elephants and rhinos.

The human-animal interaction is the film's most compelling "aw" factor. Sheldrick's trainers each care for a single baby elephant at a time, even to the point of sleeping beside their adopted orphans. The orangutans' caregivers give the primates hugs and even change their diapers.

As Freeman explains, it won't be easy for the babies to go back to the wild. But with the help of Sheldrick and Galdikas, they'll have a fighting chance.

Drew Fellman, writer and producer of "Born to Be Wild," called spending so much time among orphaned elephants and orangutans "a life changing experience."

He added: "IMAX makes it possible to share that wonder with the audience in a very profound way that takes us directly into the lives and struggles of these amazing animals."

The Maritime Aquarium is at 10 N. Water St., South Norwalk. "Born To Be Wild" opens Friday, April 8. Showtimes April 8-15 daily noon, 1, 2, 3, 6 p.m.; April 16-24 daily 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 p.m.; April 25-May 26 daily noon, 1, 2, 3 p.m. $9, $8 seniors, $6.50 ages 2-12. 203-852-0700, www.MaritimeAquarium.org.