Zoo-keepers walk onto talk shows with snakes draped around their necks, chimps dressed up in clothes, and giant performing elephants. Marine parks train dolphins to perform tricks, invite celebrities to hug the orcas, and dress up the beluga whales. Many captivity facilities even allow patrons to get up close to the animals, petting, feeding, and hugging them. Zoos and aquariums are subsequently praised because through these actions they bring the public closer to nature. But when the public begins to view wild predators as pets…we can no longer say that the human/nature relationship being propagated by captive facilities is a healthy one.
We are taught by zoos and places like SeaWorld that we can have a special connection with a wild animal. SeaWorld’s “One Ocean” show teaches us that humans and animals are all one, connected, a family. SeaWorld’s “Believe” emphasized the close human and orca bond. (SeaWorld fans followed suit speaking of the orca/trainer bond in anthropomorphic, romanticized terms.) Of course all of this requires a stark decontextualization of the animals. They are no longer majestic, intelligent, closely bonded predatory wild animals, ruling the oceans at the top of the food chain – but are cute little Shamus and Flippers; cartoon characters that aquariums keep as pets.
While we may be “closer” to nature when we view a dolphin or an elephant show, we are also being indoctrinated into a perception of nature that is sincerely wrong. In fact, having a “connection” with nature through the ideas of wildlife as presented by zoos and marine parks, is just as dangerous as not being connected to nature at all. It is a tragedy that the only way many people can see wildlife is at facilities which encourage a view of captive and wild animals through rose-tinted glasses. They’d be better off viewing the animals on a documentary, without this indoctrination.
How are these ideas harmful? They have a hand in the lucrative exotic animal trade worldwide. There are currently more captive tigers in Texas than there are in the wilds of India, and 15,000 primates are kept as pets across the U.S. Currently, 30 states allow the ownership of exotic predators as household pets and 9 of them don’t even require you to have a permit. When people view wild animals as pets…they actually keep wild animals as pets; animals that people would do well to stay away from. Of course these animals should be living in the wild, not in apartments where they often subject to horrendous living conditions. It may look a bit silly, even delusional for someone to coo to a wild predatory animal like it was a baby, or attempt to subdue it into doing tricks like a puppy…and it is silly, delusional, and destructive. However, this is still accepted and encouraged by zoos, places like SeaWorld, the captivity industry as a whole.
Captivity supporters may point out that before marine parks, people killed marine mammals and now that marine parks exist, these animals are seen in a much better light. This is true, but marine parks actually took us from one destructive extreme, to the other. Dolphins and orcas are no longer seen as pests, or fearsome predators to be killed, but as friendly animals to be exploited. With the coming of the captivity industry, ALL respect for these animals has vanished amongst the goofy circus acts and as a result, man doesn’t kill cetaceans, but instead captures and cages these animals, hoping to tame and train them for a profit. Isn’t it ironic that this is presented as beneficial purpose of the captivity industry?
If you’d like to learn more about the exotic animal trade in the U.S. (with blips on how the captivity industry affects the public and thus the trade), watch the documentary: “The Elephant in the Living Room,” which is available on Netflix.