UCL Anthropology


Alexandra (Ally) Palmer


UCL Email: alexandra.palmer.14@ucl.ac.uk
Websites: ucl.academia.edu/AllyPalmer, researchgate.net/profile/Alexandra_Palmer3
Year of Start: January 2015
Supervisors: Volker Sommer, Marc Brightman
Subject: Biological (and Social) Anthropology
Fieldsite: Various locations in the UK, Indonesia, and Malaysia

PhD Research

Ethical questions in orangutan conservation

My current research focuses on ethical questions in orangutan conservation-especially rehabilitation and reintroduction (R&R), which involves helping orphaned orangutans to become healthy, independent of humans, and socially and ecologically capable of surviving with greater independence before release into the wild. Although much has been written on the conservation value of R&R compared with other activities, and the need for further collaboration amongst orangutan conservation groups, the role of ethical and philosophical stances in shaping whether, and how, practitioners think R&R should be practised has received little attention.

My research has involved interviews with practitioners with some decision-making capacity (e.g., upper- and mid-level managers at rehabilitation centres and field projects, donor and donor-NGO directors, researchers, head office managers, and knowledgeable commentators) and visits to the majority of orangutan rehabilitation projects on Borneo and Sumatra. Among other matters, I have explored practitioners' views on a number of related ethical questions:

  • Are there any morally acceptable alternatives to R&R, such as killing displaced orangutans or keeping them in captivity?
  • How important is orangutans' wildness/freedom compared with other values, such as orangutans' right to life or welfare?
  • Is focusing on individual orangutans through R&R to the detriment of the species as a whole, by detracting funding and attention from other activities such as habitat protection? Conversely, is it ethical to sacrifice displaced orangutans for the "greater good"?
  • Which orangutans should practitioners prioritise (e.g., those in their rescue centre, those they could rescue, or wild populations)?
  • What kinds of ethical compromises must be made when seeking funding? For example, is it ever justifiable to take money from companies responsible for deforestation, or use "cute" anthropomorphic images in public fundraising at the risk of sending the "wrong" message?
  • How should one manage relationships with government, industry, and other NGOs, especially in cases of disagreement? For example, when, if ever, is it appropriate to speak out against another NGO?

Research Interests

  • Ethics in human/non-human primate relationships
  • Ethnoprimatology / multispecies ethnography
  • Conservation, wildlife rehabilitation, and zoos


2017. Nicholas Malone, Alexandra Palmer & Alison Wade. Incorporating the ethnographic perspective: The value, process, and responsibility of working with human participants. In K. M. Dore, E. P. Riley & A. Fuentes (Eds.), Ethnoprimatology: A Practical Guide to Research on the Human-Nonhuman Primate Interface, pp. 176-89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2016. Alexandra Palmer, Nicholas Malone & Julie Park.Caregiver/orangutan relationships at Auckland Zoo: Empathy, friendship, and ethics between species. Society & Animals, 24(3), 230-49.
2015. Alexandra Palmer, Nicholas Malone & Julie Park.Accessing orangutans' perspectives: Interdisciplinary methods at the human/animal interface. Current Anthropology, 36(4): 571-8.
2014. Nicholas Malone & Alexandra Palmer.Ethical and representational issues within human-alloprimate interactive zones. In L. Burns & M. Paterson (Eds.), Engaging with Animals: Interpretations of a Shared Existence, pp.21-38. Sydney: University of Sydney Press.

Presentations & Conferences

2015.Rights, resources, and rehabilitation: Some problems with orangutan charisma for zoos and conservation NGOs. Talk presented at the 2015 American Anthropological Association Meeting, Denver, CO.
2015.Entertainers, educators, or arks? The role of zoos in conservation. Talk presented at the Gashaka Symposium, Chester Zoo.
2013.Caregiver/orangutan interactions at Auckland Zoo: Communication, friendship, and ethics between species. Talk presented at the Australian Animal Studies conference, University of Sydney.
2013.Extending ethnoprimatology: An exploration of human/orangutan interactions in an urban zoological garden. Poster presentation at the 2013 American Association of Physical Anthropologists conference, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Teaching Experience

  • 2015-Present. UCL Anthropology Graduate Teaching Assistant in biological anthropology: 1014 (introduction to biological anthropology), 7009 (primate behaviour and ecology), 7022 (human brain, cognition and language).
  • 2011-2014. University of Auckland tutor in biological and social anthropology: 102 (introduction to biological anthropology), 105 (questions of race and racism), 324 (medical anthropology). In 2013 and 2014 I acted as Head Tutor, which involved overseeing the anthropology tutoring programme.

Education History

  • 2012. Master of Arts in Anthropology, University of Auckland. First Class Honours. Thesis title: Keeper/orangutan interactions at Auckland Zoo: Communication, friendship, and ethics between species. Supervisors: Dr Nicholas Malone, Professor Julie Park.
  • 2010-2011. Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Anthropology, University of Auckland, First Class Honours. Equivalent to UK MSc in biological/social anthropology.
  • 2006-2010. Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) conjoint, University of Auckland. Majors in anthropology and film.

Honours, Awards & Funding

  • 2017. Associate Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy.
  • 2015-2018. UCL Graduate Research Scholarship and Overseas Research Scholarship.
  • 2013. Blaze O'Connor Prize for top Master of Arts thesis in Anthropology, University of Auckland.
  • 2012. Faculty of Arts Masters Scholarship, University of Auckland.
  • 2012. Kakano Fund Award, Association of Social Anthropologists of Aotearoa New Zealand.
  • 2008-2010. Summer Research Scholarships, Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland.
  • 2011. First in course awards for BA (Hons) classes, University of Auckland.
  • 2010. Senior Prize in Anthropology, University of Auckland.