Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Elephant Artist or Imprisoned Circus Performer?

"I go to movies, go out with friends, go to car shows. I have a zoo." ~Axl Rose

"I believe sustainable use is the greatest propaganda in wildlife conservation at the moment." ~Steve Irwin

What is your take on the training and use of wildlife? Are you OK with it? Or do you have some concerns?

A friend shared the following video on Facebook recently. It was quite possibly one of the more amazing things I have ever seen from the animal kingdom; I was clearly blown away by it. Wow! I certainly did not realize that elephants were that intelligent! If I didn't see it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it.

While amazing, I also have some reservations, but we'll get to those later. First, the video.

Incredible? It certainly is. But now to my issue.

While at the West Edmonton Mall recently, we happened to see part of an afternoon show involving sea lions. It was cute, and all, and they certainly did not seem to be harmed in any way. It was even mildly entertaining. However, what really bothered me was what I saw and heard between the two sea lion acts we observed. As the one sea lion jumped up onto dry ground and was led back into it's "cage," (Yes, from where I stood I actually saw the jail-cell like cage, complete with bar doors), the clanging sound of the cell door rang through that part of the mall. That unnerved me. Oh, I know the sea lions could not remain unattended and wander the mall, and I also know that given the stupidity of many people, that enclosure was possibly even for their own protection. Still, to see and hear the closing of a steel-barred door that looked like it may have come from Alcatraz Prison, well, it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

The subliminal message to the animals I heard was, "Go entertain these fine people, and then get back in your cage." Then there they sit until the next "show."

I have a problem with circus acts that involve the training of animals to be something other than what they naturally were created to be. Other than some of the newer bar-free enclosures, I also have a problem with zoos. To capture and/or train wildlife simply for the entertainment of humans is, in my books, wrong. I am not suggesting that the animals suffer any harm during their training process, but I'm equally not totally convinced that they don't experience some measure of discomfort either.

I couldn't help but think of that old 1968 movie, The Planet of the Apes, in which an astronaut travels to another planet where he discovers a primitive human race being dominated by intelligent apes. Obviously the whole story was sci-fi and highly entertaining (more so than the sea lions at WEM or even the video above). Still, to see humans in zoo-like cages for the sole purpose of entertaining the apes, well it's almost like karma (not that I personally believe in karma).

Then again, I can probably think of a person or two that I would get a twisted form of entertainment value from if I saw them behind bars, but that's another story.

Anyways, that's the way I see it.

Photo Credit: Rana Xavier; Flickr Creative Commons

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