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Where The Wild Things Are

A case against captivity.

March 18, 2010
Maui Weekly

With the exception of several wildlife sanctuaries (which focus on providing protective asylum to animals and birds), the popularity of zoos, theme parks and circuses has turned the animal kingdom into a spectator sport—not to mention a multi-million-dollar industry.

Granted, there are certainly some inherent benefits (most notably the advancement of science, as well as the protection of endangered species); however, many of these operations exploit wild animals for entertainment, confining these creatures to a life performing silly tricks for humans.

And there is a dark side to this industry, evidenced by the recent death of a trainer drowned by an orca at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla. In the weeks following the incident, many expressed disbelief, even horror, that the orca (better known as a killer whale) had drowned its trainer—some even called for the animal to be euthanized. But isn’t there a lesson to be learned here? The orca is a wild animal, right? So, then, why is this incident so shocking?

Article Photos

Sarah Ruppenthal
Senior Contributing Writer

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), “The very nature of these animals makes them uniquely unsuited to confinement. In the wild, whales and dolphins live in large groups (called pods), often in tight family units. Family bonds often last many years. In some species, they last for a lifetime.” In addition, the organization warns, “The sea is to whales and dolphins much as the air is to birds—a three-dimensional environment, where they can move up and down and side to side… whales and dolphins are always swimming, even when they ‘sleep.’ They are ‘voluntary breathers,’ conscious of every breath they take. They are always aware, and always moving. Understanding this, it is difficult to imagine the tragedy of life in no more than a tiny swimming pool.”

The HSUS says this same principle applies to other wild animals that are plucked from their natural habitats and confined for the purposes of entertaining humans. “No matter what kind—elephants, lions, tigers or bears—the needs of wild animals can’t be met in traveling shows [and] if an animal tries to escape or lash out, it can be deadly for the trainer, the audience and the animal.



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