Saddleback Alumni Making a Difference Around the World

By Julianne Roberts

Congratulations to Michelle Desilets, who was recently named alumna of the year by Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. A former student, Desilets has dedicated her career and talents abroad to protecting endangered orangutans and their habitat.

Desilets’ first developed her passion for anthropology at Saddleback College. In her very first course, physical anthropology, she found herself especially interested in the study of chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Desilets went on to Dominican University in San Rafael to earn her Bachelor of Arts with honors in English Literature and then earned her teaching certificate at California State University, Long Beach. In 1994 in Borneo, she met her first orangutan who stole her heart and changed her life.


Saddleback College 2016 Alumna of the year, Michelle Desilets

In 1997 she and a partner opened a rescue center in Central Borneo which is now the world’s largest primate rescue facility. In 2002, Desilets founded the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation UK. As Executive Director, Desilets initiated campaigns to stem the illegal trade of orangutans and to repatriate known smuggled orangutans, as well as the campaign for sustainable palm oil.

After years of charity work opening up rescue centers and starting survival foundations, Desilets founded the Orangutan Land Trust in 2009. The group works to provide sustainable solutions for the long-term survival of orangutans in the wild by securing safe forest habitats, encouraging protective policies, and developing on-the-ground supportive relationships.

Whether it’s here in our Golden State or oceans away in Southeast Asia, we’re thankful to have great community colleges like Saddleback who provide a quality education and train future leaders to serve on a global level.

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