chapter  9
Ethics in research beyond the human
Pages 13

Doing political ecology in multispecies contact zones November 2011 was a comparatively quiet month at ARCAS Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, which houses and attempts to rehabilitate and release formerly trafficked animals in El Petén, Guatemala. In thirty days, there was one animal release (a hawk, who rustled around for a full anticlimactic minute in its open cardboard box before bursting free and flapping up into a black, starry sky, tracked by the eager eyes of twenty staff and volunteers with flashlights); three deaths (a howler monkey, a red-lored Amazonian parrot, and a parakeet); two necropsies (which determined that the howler monkey, whose dissection filled the boot room beside the lab with a metallic stench, had died of unknown causes; and the parrot of respiratory disease, a common illness for high-flying birds whose lungs are not equipped for the dampness of a captive life at the forest floor); the arrival of a blind heron the volunteers named Harold (who refused to eat and so was force-fed pre-soaked dog biscuits and slippery little free-swimming fish caught daily from the lake); and two semi-escapes (a fierce kinkajou, who slipped into a neighboring spider monkeys’ cage, where it was met with general wariness; and a spider monkey, Beatrice, who broke into her cage’s anteroom, where she ate all the lunch leaves). As a newcomer, this seemed liked plenty of action to me. Between scrubbing floors and scribbling in my notebook, my daily participant-observation research that month at ARCAS, part of a larger multisited project on global live wildlife trade, kept me scrambling. But seasoned ARCAS workers assured me: it gets a lot crazier. Too bad you weren’t here for something exciting, they said, like the time a box jammed with 470 iguanas arrived, more than half of whom were already dead of asphyxiation or later died because they wouldn’t eat, or the time a government official escorted an uprightwalking spider monkey here, hand in hand like a little kid, but with a leash so tight it rubbed off a band of fur around her neck.