Animal Writes
11 March 2001 Issue
Against The Use of Wild Animals in Entertainment

by [email protected] 

Perhaps for as long as man has conceived of entertainment, he has included wild animals. Whatever aspect of entertainment, be it keeping wild animals as pets, training them for movies or for live entertainment, or wearing them as a fashion statement, man has had an ongoing love affair with the idea of bending wild animals to his will. For purposes of this article, "wild animals" refers to an animal that is of a non-domesticated species.

In the pet industry we have a lively and often devastating trade in exotic, wild animals. Many species are bred in captivity, but others, including snakes, lizards, turtles, or other small exotic pets, are still taken from the wild. Even those born in captivity are not domesticated animals, they are merely captive.

They are sold as pets, often without much guidance to the prospective owner. Relatively inexpensive, they are often seen as a disposable item. Anoles, for instance, are sold for about a dollar each. Hundreds of thousands of kids have or have had them. And hundreds of thousands of anoles die in small glass cages from ignorant abuse and neglect. Parents buy them as a "great starter pet," but when the kid moves on to some other interest, it is often weeks before Mom finds the starved and lifeless body
caked to the side of his tank, his dinner just out of reach beside the cage.

In a world where even domesticated dogs and cats, who are supposedly beloved family members, are rarely given the care they need, where they go without shots, worming or quality food, exotics have even less chance of being cared for adequately. You can buy dog and cat food in the grocery store, but they rarely carry foods for exotic pets. Your local vet is well equipped to care for and recognize problems in your dog or cat, but most know little about exotics. And how many people are willing to foot even the cost of an office call on a $1 pet?

Laws regarding exotic species as pets, if they exist at all, speak only to minimal housing requirements. They may specify how HIGH the fence has to be but rarely say anything about the knowledge an owner must have. They address safety issues for the public, but rarely for the animals themselves.

Animals used in other entertainment industries may or may not fare any better. Non-domesticated animals are often not suited to life in confinement. Take a zebra for example. They are becoming popular as pets and have always been popular in backyard and private zoos. Many zebras die in
captivity because they break their necks running into walls or fences. They do not understand solid barriers. There is no such thing in their native world. A tree can be gone around. A row of bushes, the closest thing to a wall, can be run through. But a brick wall cannot, and they are often killed in the capture or confinement that human ownership entails.

Wild animals in the movie business are simply no longer needed, if indeed they ever were. The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park or the gorilla in Mighty Joe Young were realistic enough for the most discerning viewer. The state of CGI (computer generated imagery) improves daily and is at a point where there is no longer any reason to keep wild animals captive in order to feature them in film.

The live entertainment industry is oft times much worse. Circus or nightclub performances stress wild animals and trivialize what these animals are. They are not performers. They are not human charicatures to be lined up in clothes with guitars in hand, mimicking humans. No matter how well they
are cared for, no matter how many generations have been captively breeding, wild animals remain undomesticated and should be respected for the wild and free beings they are and must remain.

Perhaps the most devastating use of wild animals for our pleasure, is that of fashion. One does not have to be told of the countless lives lived in cages and eventually lost so that humans can enjoy wearing their skins. These are often animals that are unsuited to a life of confinement. A hundred generations of captive bred animals have yet to domesticate them because it is not in their nature to be domesticated.

They should not be pets, they should not be performers, they should not be clothing, and they certainly should not be a source of income. Many, if not most, people find it abhorrent for someone to breed dogs solely in order to make money, to keep them in a situation that is counter to their nature solely in order to rake in profits. But that is exactly what exotic animal breeders do. Most exotics are sold to anyone who can pay. Most are not bred with any thought in mind to the preservation of the species, its genetic health, or the individual animal's health, safety or needs. Snakes are kept in shoe boxes, fish in brandy snifters, turtles in fish tanks, zebras in corrals, and tigers in dog runs. These are animals whose genetics have geared them to survive in the wild, to roam territories many hundreds or thousands of times larger than that with which we provide them, to seek and catch a variety of foods. We want them, so we take them. If they survive, we assume that they are content. They may even live longer lives in captivity, but that does not mean that they would chose this life if they could understand the alternatives.
When they die, we throw them out and get another one. They are seen as existing for our pleasure, but they are living beings quite apart from us or our desires. They are entitled to their lives, without our interference.

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