Decolonising Conservation Practices and Research: Seeing the Orangutan in Borneo with Dr June Rubis


Around the world, orangutans are widely recognised as an iconic species for environmental and wildlife conservation efforts. The rainforest in the Malaysian state of Sarawak is one of last remaining habitats of the nearly extinct Bornean orangutan. While conservation efforts have made the region a top priority for protecting orangutans, these efforts often sideline the indigenous peoples who live along the great apes.

Dr June Rubis speaks with Dr Natali Pearson about her lifelong work in orangutan conservation, and reflects on mainstream conservation narratives, politics, and power relations around orangutan conservation in Sarawak and elsewhere in Borneo. In describing the more-than-human relations that link the indigenous Iban people and endangered orangutans, Dr Rubis encourages us to rethink our relationship to the environment, and to learn from indigenous knowledge to decolonise conservation and land management practices.

June Rubis is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Indigenous Environmental Studies of the Sydney Environmental Institute at the University of Sydney. She researches Indigenous conservation and land management practices from a decolonial perspective, with a particular focus on Malaysian Borneo. Her recent project has focused on the human-environment and human-animal relationships within the multi-scalar forces of conservation in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. She is a former conservation biologist, with twelve years of conservation fieldwork and Indigenous rights issues in Borneo (both Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo), and was born and raised in Sarawak. She is currently the co-chair of "Documenting Territories of Life" programme with the ICCA (Indigenous Communities Conserved Areas) consortium.

You can follow June on Twitter @JuneRubis.

For more information or to browse additional resources, visit the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre’s website here.

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Natali Pearson

Dr Natali Pearson is Curriculum Coordinator at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, a university-wide multidisciplinary center at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on the protection, management and interpretation of underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia.

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