November 06, 2012
If you read my columns with any sort of regularity, you’ve probably figured out that I love
animals — sometimes even more than people, honestly. Think Elmyra Duff from “Tiny Toon Adventures” (remember her?), only slightly less obnoxious: “I’m gonna hug you and kiss you and love you forever! I want to hug you and squeeze you into itty-bitty pieces!”
However, although I have an appreciation for all God’s lovely creatures — especially the cute, furry ones — I do understand the difference between wild animals and tame ones. I know they aren’t all OK with being loved and hugged and squeezed into itty-bitty pieces, and I’m OK with that. I have no problem admiring wild animals from afar — say, on the Discovery Channel during a documentary on them filmed in their natural habitats — and I’m very much in favor of allowing them to live their lives without interference from us pesky humans.
That’s why I’ve always struggled with the idea of animals in captivity. Zoos, theme parks, traveling circuses — even though I’ve been guilty of attending these types of attractions, I’ve always felt torn between a sense of admiration for and enjoyment of the animals (and the hope that they are treated kindly) and an overwhelming sense of pity for them and remorse that I am part of the problem; people like me make up the audiences that keep these organizations, which profit from the captivity of wild animals, in business. People like me are keeping these animals in cages with chains around their necks.
I remember watching an episode of “Oprah” that featured Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer (famous for training “Flipper”) who has become an advocate for the release of these wild animals after he’d witnessed some captive dolphins spiral into depression while he was working with Sea World. Some, he claimed, even committed suicide, voluntarily choosing to stop breathing. That stuck with me.
So, I was upset but not surprised to read of yet more cases that involved caged wild animals attacking humans over the weekend. First, a two-year-old child fell into an exhibit of wild African dogs at the Pittsburgh Zoo and was mauled by the pack of animals as bystanders helplessly looked on. Apparently, the child’s mother was attempting to give her son a better view when she picked him up and set him on top of a railing at the edge of the viewing deck, where he lost his balance and fell more than 10 feet into the exhibit. (To be fair, officials aren’t certain whether it was the fall or the animals that caused the boy’s death. Regardless, it was a seemingly avoidable tragedy at the zoo.)
Then, in Montana, a 24-year-old man was killed by grizzly bears (officials aren’t sure whether one or both of the caged bears were involved) while the man was cleaning the bears’ enclosure at a wildlife casting agency. One of the bears was killed “in order to recover the victim.”
I realize that there are certain benefits to animal captivity, such as conservation and species protection and survival, but it’s imperative that we as a society understand the dangers associated with these efforts. Wild animals are just that — wild
. They were not created to entertain the masses or become pets, and when they are expected to do just that, people are going to get hurt.
It’s time we started treating wild animals with the respect they deserve. Linsay Cheney is the editor of Connect Statesboro. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.