Last Wednesday Dawn Brancheau who was the trainer of killer whales at SeaWorld Orlando (Florida) was dragged underwater and killed by a killer whale named Tillikum during a show. After this incident it was revealed that Tillikum has previously killed two other human beings (some newspapers have started calling this whale a “serial killer whale”).
Killer whales in nature are used to territories that range in the hundreds of miles. Putting them in a tank that is slightly bigger than an Olympic swimming pool is like putting human beings in closets all our lives. It is very stressful for the mammal and not the correct way we humans should be treating other living things.
One of the first zoos that I visited was the Thiruvananthapuram Zoo (Kerala, India). It was established in the 1857 by the Maharaja of Travancore. The setting is beautiful and it is right in the center of the city. It was during this time that some of the most important zoos in the world were established. I currently live in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia zoo (which is the first zoo in the United States) was established in 1859.
I can understand why zoo’s where established in the first place. Before television, radio, magazines and newspapers zoos were probably the only way human beings could see other exotic animals and birds. But we have the television and the internet. We can know everything we want to know about any living organism in a few seconds which a few clicks of your keyboard. You can watch videos. If you want to see them in person there are safari rides where you can watch them in their own natural setting. The question is do we still need zoos to entertain us and our kids?
Most of the zoos now claim that their goal is no longer entertainment but conservation. The Trivandrum Zoo museum website (which looks like it has not been updated in a few decades) claims that its main objective is wildlife conservation with special reference to the species endemic and endangered in the Western ghats, education and nature awareness, wildlife research and ecotourism. There is no data provided in the website about the success or failures of any of the zoos stated objectives.
The Philadelphia zoo provides a little more information about conservation. They have a rare animal conservation center where visitors can learn about issues that affect these rare animals. They also indicate that they donate thousands of dollars every year to support conservation efforts all over the world. But the fact is that the overwhelming number of people who visit the zoo are there to see animals that are living in very restrictive settings compared to what they are used to in nature. Aren’t the zoos sending mixed signals to its customers? How can conservation and caged animals and birds go hand in hand?
The killer whale show at SeaWorld is one of their biggest attractions. The show was suspended for a few days but it is back on again. Why do we need to see a killer whale or dolphin jump twenty feet into the air with a balloon on its nose? Why are we so interested in seeing a tiger jump through a ring that is on fire at a circus? Are we so bored that we have to resort to gimmicks like this to keep us entertained?
There was a time and place for the zoos and the circuses and the shows that use animals and birds as props for human entertainment. But like many other things those days are long over. There is nothing funny or entertaining about a whale that is trained to perform tricks with food as bait.
We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form – William Ralph Inge
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Category: Culture & Religion