Southeast Asian wildlife rehabilitation centers, such as an orangutan rehabilitation center in Malaysia and an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, facilitate commodified forms of intimacy between endemic animals, their caretakers who also hail from the region, and transnational commercial volunteers. These forms of intimacy include cleaning animal feces as well as gaining physical proximity and even tactile contact. At first glance, commercial volunteerism at such sites appears to convey the idea of ethical capitalism, which Slavoj Žižek describes as “consumption for a cause.” However, ethnographic investigation of these sites reveals that focusing on clean consumption alone cannot account for the ways in which dirty bodily effects fuel the industry of commercialized volunteerism. This article ethnographically examines how intimate encounters across species, specifically between people and endemic charismatic megafauna, fuel a transnational economy. It is based on ethnographic research conducted in Sarawak, Malaysia, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, between 2008 and 2010. Ultimately, it helps show how a global industry is produced through the commodification of intimate encounters across difference.

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