Ethical Debates in Orangutan Conservation  book cover
1st Edition

Ethical Debates in Orangutan Conservation

ISBN 9780367182885
Published March 11, 2020 by Routledge
260 Pages

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Book Description

Ethical Debates in Orangutan Conservation explores how conservationists decide whether, and how, to undertake rehabilitation and reintroduction (R&R) when rescuing orphaned orangutans. The author demonstrates that exploring ethical dilemmas is crucial for understanding ongoing disagreements about how to help endangered wildlife in an era of anthropogenic extinction.

Although R&R might appear an uncontroversial activity, there is considerable debate about how, and why, it ought to be practised. Drawing on in-depth qualitative research with orangutan conservation practitioners, this book examines how ethical trade-offs shape debates about R&R. For example, what if the orphan fails to learn how to be an orangutan again, after years in the company of humans? What if she is sent into the forest only to slowly starve? Would she have been better off in a cage? Could the huge cost of sending a rescued ape back to the wild be better spent on stopping deforestation in the first place? Or do we have a moral obligation to rescue the orphan regardless of cost? This book demonstrates that deconstructing ethical positions is crucial for understanding ongoing disagreements about how to help our endangered great ape kin and other wildlife.

Ethical Debates in Orangutan Conservation is essential reading for those interested in conservation and animal welfare, animal studies, primatology, geography, environmental philosophy, and anthropology.

Table of Contents



Introduction: To Save is to Sacrifice



What Are Ethics?

Conservation, Welfare, Liberation

Triage and Trade-Offs


Chapter 1: Orangutans and their Conservation

Orangutans: A Natural and Cultural History

Conservation: The Old, the New, and the Ugly

Pancasila and Palm Oil: Conservation in Indonesia

Orangutans as Tourism Mascots: Conservation in Malaysian Borneo

"Please Don’t Set Up Any More!" The NGO Network

Orangutans in the Anthropocene

Chapter 2: Kill, Incarcerate, or Liberate? Alternatives to Reintroduction

Orangutan Reintroduction: Conservation Tool or Cry in the Wilderness?

Replenishing Wild Populations: A Post-Hoc Argument?

Forest Restoration and Protection: Reintroduction as Political Incentive for Conservation

Law Enforcement: Is Trade a Cause of Consequence of Orangutan Endangerment?

Ignoring Displaced Wildlife "Breaks the Hearts of People": Educational Benefits of R&R

Freedom isn’t Free: The Cost-(In)effectiveness of R&R


What Counts as Euthanasia?

Personhood and Penance: Orangutan Rights and Human Responsibilities

Sentience and Speciesism: The Ethics of Killing Orangutans Versus Other Species


Surplus and Scarcity: The Practical Problem of Housing Orphaned Orangutans

Where is "Home"? Orangutans and Nationality

Life of Luxury or Prison? The Welfare Implications of Captivity Versus the Wild

Integrity, Islam, and Independence: Wildness as Inherently Valuable

Weighing Wildness and Welfare

Chapter 3: What is a Rehabilitation Centre? Boundary-Work in Conservation

What’s in a Name? The Preference for "Rehabilitation Centre" Over "Sanctuary"

To Breed or Not to Breed? Distinguishing Rehabilitation Centres from Zoos

Dehuminization and Dualisms: Defining Wildness

Sustainability and Sacrifice: The Ethics of Wildlife Tourism

A Tenuous Boundary?

A Counter Example: Rehabilitation Centre or Release Site?

Chapter 4: Sense and Sentimentality: Emotion in Environmental Ethics

Eyes and PIEs: The Development of Ethical Stances

Feelings and Facts: The Relationship Between Emotion and Rationality

Selfishness and Sacrifice: Two Specific Worries About Emotion in Orangutan Conservation

Triage and Trouble: More Thought, Not Less Emotion

Chapter 5: No Space on the Ark: Triage in Wildlife Rescue

Selecting Citizens: Sacrifice and Speciesism in Admission Practices

Creating Two Problems, or Solving One? The Dilemma of Translocation

The Sliding Scale

Chapter 6: Wild, Well, or Free? Ethical Debates in Rehabilitation Methods

Motherly or Tough Love? Negotiating Human-Orangutan Boundaries in Rehabilitation

Persevering Purity or Process? Mixing Taxa at Release Sites

Defining Unreleasability: Training, Trauma, and Triage

Wild Abandon(ment): The Challenges of Post-Release Monitoring

The "Grey Zone": Healthcare and the Transition to Wildness

Free or Enslaved? Post-Release Feeding and the Question of Free Will

Who is the Expert?

Chapter 7: Bosses, Baddies, and "Baby Huggers": The Ethics of Conservation Fundraising

Oversight and Ownership: Relationships with Foundations and Donor-NGOs

Palm Oil and Other Dirty Money

Playing to the "Baby Huggers": Cuteness and Commodification

Expertise and Ethics: Two Worries About Fundraising

Chapter 8: The "Dark Side": (Un)ethics and Whistleblowing in Conservation

My Orangutan, Your Orangutan: Narratives of Collaboration and Conflict

Public or Private Secrets? The Ethics of Whistleblowing

Should Outsiders Speak Out?

Conclusion: Ethics in the Anthropocene




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Alexandra Palmer is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Geography at the University of Oxford, with a background in social anthropology and primatology. Her work centres around ethical dimensions of human relationships with other animals, especially non-human primates. Ethical Debates in Orangutan Conservation is based on her doctoral work at University College London. Her other research has looked at zookeeper–orangutan relationships and ethics and regulation in non-laboratory animal research (including with wildlife).


"Masterfully weaving together rich ethnographic fieldwork with poignant scholarly analysis, Ethical Questions in Orangutan Conservation is a must-read for scholars and practitioners who are willing to stay with the trouble and to consider the real-life dilemmas of saving while sacrificing nonhuman animals in the Anthropocene."
- Irus Braverman, author of Coral Whisperers: Scientists on the Brink


"Via a thoroughly anthropological lens Palmer takes us through the biopolitics of orangutan conservation and much, much more. Her theme of triage and her deft interweaving of multiple intellectual and methodological threads produces an engaging, highly complex, and totally fascinating view into core dilemmas of the Anthropocene."
- Agustín Fuentes, The Edmund P. Joyce C.S.C. Professor of Anthropology, Chair of the Department of Anthropology