The Predatory Pet and the Captivity Industry


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.

SeaWorld trainer just inches from Tilikum’s teeth. Is it foolish to tame a wild predator and present it as though it is a pet?

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.

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4 thoughts on “The Predatory Pet and the Captivity Industry

  1. My question was, why is that a tragedy? Who does it affect negatively? Those tigers aren’t removed from the wild. It’s good that we can at least captive-breed them. Are you OK with keeping African wildcats cats since they are ancestors of domesticated cats? Servals and cheetahs were also kept by the Ancient Egyptians. They actually don’t make bad pets, if you can deal with the spraying and non-cuddliness. Exotic pets require a little more flexibility in determining your limits with them. it may seem oppressive to you, but that’s just an opinion. Another person might think ownership of any animal, including dogs, is oppressive.

    Dogs can’t consent to many things that we force upon them. Our modern society does not resemble traveling with nomadic hunters. I highly doubt that early domestic dogs were never caged and oppressed in any kind of way. Cats kept in homes often get bored too, and sometimes lick bald spots because of it. What matters is the level of care employed. People with tigers obviously shouldn’t have them in close proximity to other homes or in a yard that’s too small, but some people have acres of land. Putting big cats in the improper environment is not proper care, and the same goes for putting an active dog breed in an apartment or with no fenced in yard. That’s why you’ll have people refusing to give dogs to people who don’t have that. Someone did keep a tiger in an apartment and that is often used to show the issues with exotics, search Ming the tiger. Of course, tigers are not legal in NYC. Neither are ferrets now. Don’t you find that a tad excessive?

  2. You’ve touched upon a subject that is profoundly important to me. So be prepared…

    “There are currently more captive tigers in Texas than there are in the wilds of India”

    Hence why tigers are “endangered”. I’m not sure why people make comparisons to wild tiger populations as to suggest that there are A LOT of tigers in the wild. There aren’t. I don’t get the logic here.

    We strongly disagree on the subject of ‘wild animals’ as pets, which is something I’d be OK with, except that the sentiment here is being used to control the lifestyles of other people against their will. Many people view the relationship of a captive wild animal and a human as an oppressive one; I don’t see it that way, but I don’t expect your views to change. I’m glad that you acknowledge the benefits that captivity has had on how people see killer whales. However I don’t think there is any connection with this toward the desire to own wild carnivores. I don’t know which carnivores you are referring to (lions, ferrets?), but they certainly have been ‘pets’ for millions of years, way before cetaceans came into the picture, hence the existence of dogs and cats today. I think the few people who seek out high-maintenance animals want the experience to care for a wild as we once did in the past. The appeal can’t be denied. Some may think it is oppressive, but I just see nature. I’m sure that if whales had figured out how to keep pets in the wild, you and your followers would be awe-inspired.

    Does Seaworld romanticize and anthropomorphize their animals? Absolutely. This is why I’ve always hate these shows. And in fact, I’d say those who are the most guilty of anthropomorphizing these animals are those who are anti-captivity. They’ve seen too many Disney movies and think the animals constantly dream about life in the wild and are essentially prisoners. I’d think that this perspective would help your cause, not take away from it.
    Are you under the misconception that tigers are often kept in apartment due to one highly exceptional case from a completely misguided person in NYC? People tend to only pay attention to the worst case scenarios and label everyone as guilty. Even those who hate captivity but engage in it, like Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue. She stated out as a private pet owner, purchasing over 50 bobcats from a fur farm as pets. She technically still is.

    I’m not delusional. I don’t think any private owner of a carnivore naturally selected to prey on animals comparable to humans should be contacted and played with. Other people think it’s worth the risk. I think humans just have a desire to make human-esque connections with wildlife. I coo at bugs that couldn’t give 2 sh*ts about me, but this is just our nature. I don’t think it is ‘dangerous’. I don’t think most people have intentions to buy tigers as pets.

    I hate nature documentaries. I can pretty much guarantee that animals would be of no interest to me if I could only view footage of them constantly attacking each other.

    • I mentioned the number of captive tigers vs. the wild tigers not to suggest that there are a lot of tigers in the wild, but to emphasize the tragedy of the situation. There should not be more captive tigers than there are wild ones.

      “Controling the lifestyles of other people against their will” is justified when other beings are being harmed or oppressed in the process. (Of course I believe keeping – certain – wild animals as pets is oppressive.)

      “I don’t know which carnivores you are referring to…” Predators. Large predators. Venomous snakes, etc.

      Today, thousands of lions, tigers, and wolves are caged and kept as pets. This is not natural and certainly never took place at the domestication of cats and dogs. Domestic cats came from African wildcats, not lions and tigers. Dogs came from small grey wolves which gradually became accustomed to the company of our ancestors, rather than being caged with humans.

      I can’t speak for other anti-caps, but I know that animals such as orcas and dolphins do have a sense of their state (freedom vs. captivity,) and weighing the scientific evidence led me to the anti-captivity position. (It’s a long story!)

      I never claimed that tigers are often kept in apartments. I’ve never heard of someone keeping a tiger in an apartment in NYC and I’m not labeling everyone as guilty. I’m against the keeping of tigers as household pets, whether it’s in a suburban backyard, or an NY apartment.

      “I don’t think most people have intentions to buy tigers as pets.” Me either.

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