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Debate!: Animals in Captivity

>> Friday, February 26, 2010

In the wake of yesterdays bombardment of the news of an orca attack on a trainer at SeaWorld, Orlando, the conversation came up many times about the purpose of keeping these large mammals in captivity. While animals have been held in captivity for thousands of years for the simple sake of enjoyment, showcase, and pride of ownership, many a conversation has been had about the reasoning behind this. This sort of thing is perfect for the now rare and occasional Debate! series.

Too many times, the presence of non-native wildlife in an area, no matter how contained the plants or animals may be, the organisms end up becoming invasives and manage a way into the wildlife in the surrounding areas. This destroys the biodiversity in many areas and since this is the Year of Biodiversity, an appropriate debate as well. That is what happened, if you recall, with the Vervet monkeys in St. Kitts. There is also a very serious problem with invasive lionfish in the Caribbean. There is even a bounty out for these guys. The lionfish ended up in these waters as wayward pets. People buy exotic animals and instead of properly disposing of, selling, whatever, they release these animals into the wild. Now the lionfish is destroying reef systems simply by not having any natural predators. We'll get into that later, though.

On a larger scale, however, killer whales (Orcinus orca) and other dolphins are not your average pets. Many of these animals start out as rescue animals or are bred in captivity. The rescue animals, such as those found at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, are rehabilitated for release. Many of the seriously injured ones, like Winter, would never make it being re-released in the wild so they are used for educational purposes. Many of these amazing mammals, however, actually are captured for use in entertainment shows, suffer various pathologies, and have a decreased life expectancy.

So, dear readers, on what side of the argument do you weigh in on here? People do die of pig related accidents all the time, and this was a bit of a freak incident, but should animals of this nature be held captive? There are a lot of angles one can take here, so happy debating!


The Queen February 28, 2010 at 10:59 PM  

Wow long time we haven't had a debate, I was missing it. I love what you have to say in this debate. And I believe these animals shouldn't be held captive for our enjoyment. I believe they will remember where they came from and have those off days where the true animal in them comes out.They want to be free in their own habitat. Lord knows we as humans have those off days. I for one cannot see myself confined to a limited space. I might adjust somewhat to it if I had no choice but know one day I will totally lose it and go wild. like these creatures. They should be in their own habitat, what they are used to. These people that buy certain wild animals as pet and then let them go in a wrong habitat is also so so wrong.

Val March 2, 2010 at 10:09 PM  

I think most zoos/aquariums have good intentions. I love love love visiting them- you can learn a lot and it's wonderful to see the animals most individuals will probably never, ever experience during their every day lives. Most facilities have great educational programs (such as Zoo Camp at my Minnesota Zoo) and daily activities for hands-on learning and awareness. Many have awesome programs to enhance populations through conservation and reproductive efforts; they also contribute to and perform research projects.
I know there are zoos out there who do not provide adequate environments to their animals, are understaffed or poorly staffed, and do not supply the finances needed to correct these problems. This is why there should be guidelines and checks to make sure animals are getting good treatment. Hopefully the Seaworld incident will make the company re-examine the way they interact with and provide for their animals, and make good effort remedy where they went wrong. But a world without zoos and aquariums sounds like a pretty joyless world to me; they do more good than harm.

Marizela M. Zambrano March 3, 2010 at 8:40 AM  

Well put.

To play Devil's advocate: who, then, will teach people about these amazing animals and show them respect for things? What about animal rehab programs where the animal could not possibly survive without being in captivity?

Marizela M. Zambrano March 3, 2010 at 8:42 AM  

I, too, am a Zoo JUNKIE. Really. However, again playing Devil's advocate here (part of my role as moderator of the debate I suppose), African elephants are dwindling in numbers. There are currently more in zoos than in the wild. However, the life expectancy in zoos is about 1/3 their life expectancy in the wild. In cases like these, are we really helping the cause?

The Queen March 3, 2010 at 11:34 AM  

Yes Seaquariums and Zoo’s are nice to visit, but being without them doesn’t make this world a less joyous place. There are other things that bring joy which I am not getting into right now because that’s not the issue here.
A lot of people with children can’t enjoy these places because they can’t afford it. Does this mean they have no joy in their lives? No. It just means that they have to learn through different ways. Instead of hours playing video games or watching sex or violent movies on TV parents should make them watch learning programs. There are so many programs on TV that teach about these wild animals. Steve Erwin was one of my favorites. Animal Kingdom, The Wonderful World of Jacques Cousteau to name a few.
I for one was a single parent with two children and couldn’t afford to take my kids to these places. So my one child had her favorite learning programs while the other one had her favorite learning programs. And believe me they learned from Reading Rainbow, Mr. Wizard, even Sesame Street to name a few. Till this day they talk about how they remember those programs and what they learned and how it helped them in school. After they watched them and learned then they were allowed to watch cartoons or other programs.
Many a people buy wild animals from pet shops and when they get too big or expensive to keep, they release them in the wrong environment. Sometimes these animals don’t have a predator in this environment causing them to eat whatever in sight, which throws off our ecosystem food chain.
Now as far as animal rehab programs, I am all for that. Now there’s a learning place which is what we want to do, learn. Not places where they make these creatures learn tricks, something against their nature, just for the pleasure or enjoyment of others. To show that they are intelligent creatures and can be trained. We all know they are intelligent just by the way they survive. They don’t need training in tricks. I put myself in their place and think, if captured and taken to the wild would I be happy. I would learn some of the tricks I would be taught to stay in the wild, but my heart would always be in civilization where I was happy and knew how to survive.

Val March 3, 2010 at 11:38 AM  

I don't think the right solution has really come about yet, but zoos are trying. They've gone from an era where it was alright to chain elephants in small places for long periods and use whips, to understanding more about the social, environmental and psychological needs and trying to meet them. Of course, this isn't possible most places. They need a huge area of land and a complicated social network with elephants of various ages to be happy. But with or without zoos the African elephant population would still be dwindling due to the loss of their natural habitat, poachers and the ongoing battle with illegal ivory trades. African elephant reproductive efforts have been successful in zoos and this is better than not having African elephants at all. As long as we can maintain their populations in zoos and strive to make them happy, we can focus on the larger issue too- fixing the problems in their natural environment- and then work towards bridging the gap between zoo life and wildlife. Right now I'm not sure they would have any better outcome in their natural environment.

Marizela M. Zambrano March 5, 2010 at 9:40 AM  

point for you!

Marizela M. Zambrano March 5, 2010 at 9:44 AM  

we didn't visit zoos often, but we still did. Whether it was as a class field trip or some other means, we did. It still made a profound impact. And the "joy" thing is the least of the issues. At the end of the day, as much as seeing gazelles and zebra on TV is cool, as much as dinosaur documentaries are fun, the first time you see a live wild animal (like at a circus even) it sticks with you, it solidifies the reality. The first time I saw actual dino bones in a mountain side, it made sense. It became more tangible. Less of something fiction on TV. TV doesn't really make its impact (in my opinion) the way zoos and museums do.

The Queen March 5, 2010 at 5:37 PM  

yes Zoos and Museums not Theme parks where animals are kept for Entertainment Purposes, yes I know they talk about the creature some but not as much as they should.

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