Many wild animals are kept captive in order to be used in animal attractions, ranging from circuses and animal shows, photographic props to swimming with dolphins and riding elephants. Have you ever stopped to wonder where these animals come from ? They are wild animals after all. Or at least used to be, until man decided to use them for its own entertainment. And this rises ethical and welfare concerns.
1. Traumatic capture
Animals caught in the wild are in most cases separated from their family or social group during a chase. They are usually trapped in a net, sometimes even shot with a tranquiliser. The mother is often killed in front of its infants, that is especially the case with orangutans. They are then transported on board ships or trucks, for long and stressful journeys. That’s how traumatic their new life in captivity starts and it’s only just the beginning.
2. Poor living conditions
Guidelines with regards to husbandry vary from country to country with some countries lacking clear species guidelines. Often, animals are not supplied with appropriate shelter from the weather and they can be confined in cages/enclosures that are not regularly cleaned and that are too small for their lifestyle and behavioural needs. Elephants are chained to a post by the leg and yet these majestic creatures can travel up to 40 km a day in the wild, Cetaceans can swim up to 100 miles per day but in a small tank, can’t go in a straight line for long or dive very deep.
3. Unbalanced diet
Animals are either underfed or fed an unsuitable diet, which leads to physiological problems such as nutritional deficiencies, teeth problems and weight loss. Some animals can however become obese due to the lack of physical exercise, which in turn can lead to joint malfunction. Have you ever wondered why the dorsal fin of every single captive orcas collapses – when they rarely do in the wild ? An inadequate diet (consisting only of dead fish) is believed to be one of the many reasons.
By performing the same tricks and entertaining tourists every day, animals receive very little mental stimulation and little to no environmental enrichment. As a consequence they start to exhibit repetitive and abnormal behaviours. Pacing, circling, head rocking, chewing the bars of a cage, banging their heads on the wall and self mutilation are all stereotypies commonly seen in captive animals.
5. Social isolation
Social species need bonding by visual and auditory contact with their conspecifics. Most of the animals used in wildlife attractions are social : elephants roam in herds, cetaceans move in pods, lions live in prides, monkeys in troops, etc. And yet, they are very often housed alone and deprived of any social contact.
6. Repressed behaviours
In an unsuitable environment, opportunities to express their natural behaviours are small to null. In a small tank, how can cetaceans use echolocation or exhibit their sophisticated hunting techniques ?
7. Violent training
Animals are beaten, mutilated and withdrawn food and water until completely obedient. Bears are attached with a neck rope in an upright position for hours or their front paws are burnt to force them to walk on their hind feet. The canines and claws of big cats are removed.
The ‘bullhook’ is a common tool used to beat elephants on sensitive places such as the face, behind the ears and under the chin. An elephant called Sadie, was punished for trying to get out of the ring once : she was beaten until she cried like a human being, tears coming down her face and sobs shaking her whole body.
8. Unnatural behaviours
Animals are forced to perform stressful and painful tricks which represent behaviours outside of their natural behavioural repertoire. You will never see in the wild a big cat jumping through fire hoops, an elephant balancing on its front legs on a stool or a bear riding a bicycle !
Captive animals can get injured from the training, the performance or from other animals, if housed with incompatible individuals. Orcas at Sea World can be left in a small tank together and show aggression towards each other, as they have no where to escape ! Sick and injured animals may not be treated, due to a lack of knowledge of the veterinarians regarding wild animals – if there even is one veterinarian on site ! – or are not treated correctly. Animals are left to die alone, in pain and distress.
10. Aggressive behaviour
Captive wild animals can become aggressive towards humans. There is currently no record of orcas attacking human beings in the wild. And yet, four people have died while interacting with orcas since 1991 and more than half the trainers that work with captive marine mammals have been severely injured.
Animals do not choose to lead a life in captivity, you can help them remain wild by simply not going to see animal shows, not riding an elephant, not swimming with dolphins or anything that involves wild captive animals used for our entertainment. You can also spread the word around you and sign numerous petitions online.
Many organisations are trying to increase public animal welfare awareness but there is still a long way to go to see any improvements in the captive conditions of non-domesticated animals and, ultimately, to see wildlife attractions disappear for good.
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