Ethics commentary: Subjects of knowledge and control in field primatology

N. M. Malone, A. Fuentes, F. J. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Our primate kin are routinely displaced from their habitats, hunted for meat, captured for trade, housed in zoos, made to perform for our entertainment, and used as subjects in biomedical testing. They are also the subjects of research inquiries by field primatologists. In this article, we place primate field studies on a continuum of human and alloprimate relationships as a heuristic device to explore the unifying ethical implications of such inter-relationships, as well as address specific ethical challenges arising from common research protocols "in the field" (e.g. risks associated with habituation, disease transmission, invasive collection of biological samples, etc.). Additionally, we question the widespread deployment of conservation- and/or local economic development-based justifications for field-based primatological pursuits. Informed by decades of combined fieldwork experience in Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, we demonstrate the process by which the adherence to a particular ethical calculus can lead to unregulated and ethically problematic research agendas. In conclusion, we offer several suggestions to consider in the establishment of a formalized code of ethics for field primatology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)779-784
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


  • Conservation
  • Ethics
  • Research


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