A DARK PLACE IN THE JUNGLE by Linda Spalding

A DARK PLACE IN THE JUNGLE

KIRKUS REVIEW

Bad press for primatologist BirutÇ Galdikas and her work with the orangutans of Borneo, from novelist Spalding (The Paper Wife, 1996, etc.). Grim rumors attend Galdikas much as they did another of Louis Leakey’s trio of angels, Dian Fossey: reports that she is delusional, vastly self-absorbed, a threat not only to herself but also the creatures she claims to protect. Unfortunately, Galdikas does little to challenge the snipings, if that is what they are. Spalding, who had sought out Galdikas as a vehicle to explore our species’s distancing from the natural world, found the primatologist distracted and aloof on the rare occasions when she made contact and furtive the rest of the time. Spalding tries to avoid official channels to get at Galdikas, but that only incurs the wrath of Borneo’s refuge manager and distances Galdikas even further. So Spalding must rely on reports and interviews with those who have worked directly with Galdikas to investigate claims of the dreadful failure of interspecies adoption (humans caring for orphaned orangutans) and retrofitting them for the wild—Galdikas’s sacred notion and guiding principle. From what Spalding has gathered, it’s a disaster, with the rehabilitated orangutans often killed by their wild counterparts, or spreading disease throughout the forest canopy, or simply too emotionally damaged by their time with humans to survive in a wild state. Spalding also reports that Galdikas may have an outrageous number of orangutans at her town house in Pasir Panjang, far from their natural precincts, in a situation that comes perilously (and creepily) close to an anthropomorphism gone berserk. There are further allegations of profiteering and intellectual back-stabbing, of worthless data gathered by incompetents under Galdikas’s direction, and of an ecotourism that delivers a skewed message and its income into the wrong hands. Spalding tries to lighten the impact of her story with an idyllic, out-of-time passage to a Dayak village, but it is to no avail. The picture here of Galdikas’s activities is unremittingly distressing and raises serious questions to which she will have to respond.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56512-226-7
Page count: 276pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999




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