Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Python Kills Two Boys: Why, How, and Snake Attack History.

It is the stuff of nightmares. A 100-pound, 14 foot African rock python, which was being kept as a house pet  
US Army Africa CC BY 2.0 Via Flickr
as new reports reveal, escaped from its cage and into the ventilation system of the apartment in which it lived and killed two sleeping children after falling through the ceiling above them. It happened in Campbellton, New Brunswick, Canada.

The boys (4 and 6 years old), whom were sleeping over at the home of a friend, died of constriction, however the necropsy reports for both the kids and the snake (to see what may have been a factor in the attack) *haven’t come back yet at this time. The snake, which the owner has possessed for at least 10 years, was euthanized after the tragedy.

 Many snake experts are scratching their heads. It is entirely abnormal for a large snake to subdue not one, but two oversized ‘prey items’.
*Autopsy report 
“It’s ridiculous. I can’t believe this is real.” said Reptile Ocean Inc. owner  Jean-Claude Savoie.

Pictures of the boys cleaning the snake cage

For some reason, the media has decided to sensationalize a “shocking photo” of the young victims cleaning the cage of the snake that killed them prior to the incident. The snake appears to not be present in the picture. Why is this shocking? 
Like shows such as Animal Planet’s Fatal Attractions (I’m sure their people are calling around trying to get people to talk to about this incident already), the object is to present this story as some inevitable tail of horror due to negligent, crazed exotic pet owners. As for whether or not the owner should be held accountable is still pending, but it is easy to forget the thousands of large snake owners who’ve had no problems nor will then in the future.

How did this happen?

There are many possible explanations being given from various reptile behaviorists. We know that snakes only constrict for food and not self-defense, therefore it is presumed that the animal must have been hungry. However, one herpetologist proposed that the snake may have been spooked from the fall and clung onto whatever it fell on. Others suggest that since the boys had spent time around prey animals at a family farm, the snake may have abnormally mistaken them for food. Fatalities from large constrictor snakes have occurred in the past, but are rare.

Deaths from captive pythons

No matter which way you spin it, death by captive constrictor snakes, despite their widespread popularity as pets, are not common by any means. However, the exotic pet community suffers greatly even when these isolated incidents occur no more than once annually, compared to around 30 fatal incidents from domesticated dogs (and immeasurable injuries) alone. 

Rexano has graciously listed every single fatality from these animals within the years of 1990 to 2012. Only 10 people have been killed by pet snakes during this time frame. In addition, ZERO of these fatalities occurred to members of the public that were not involved with the snake in question (translation: you will not be killed in your sleep by someone else’s choice of pet). 

The incident in Canada was no exception, as the boys’ guardians allowed contact and accepted these very small risks. Negligence certainly also plays a role in large snake fatalities, because these incidents, as the statistics show, are entirely preventable and not likely to occur from the start. Big snakes like these however should never be given the opportunity to escape.

Ban large pythons as pets?

Once again the exotic pet community is faced with ‘weird death syndrome’, which I’ve outlined in this article. People are not concerned with death alone, but fatalities associated with practices that confuse, bother, or outrage them. It is already very easy to be offended by the ownership of snakes—I’ve milled through comment after exclaiming “WHY DO PEOPLE NEED TO OWN THESE THINGS!? “ from snake-o-phobes and borderline animal rights activists alike. Snakes, next to spiders, are probably one of the most (irrationally) feared animals and most people don’t even like to look at them, save own one. But many people are fascinated by snakes as others are with puppies. 

While said puppies grow up to become members of a species that have killed more people, owners of snakes do not get reptiles because they want a pet that will cuddle with them and play fetch, but a unique, interesting (not to mention, low maintenance) pet they can simply marvel at. Pythons thrive and have sufficient well-being in captivity.

The Humane Society of the United States is a prominent animal rights organization that uses ever rare incident that occurs in North America to try and shut down any part of the pet trade it can. Here is their newest effort

This comes as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the philosophy of this organization. They have no interest in public safety, but use it to support their goal of animal liberation. Regardless, tragedies like what occurred in Canada are undeniably, utterly rare.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Should SeaWorld be Shut Down? Animal Rights in Full Swing.

Recently I have written an article entitled The Stupidity of the Blackfish Trailer: Anti-Seaworld Documentary. Excuse the hyperbole of that description, but I have been following anti-cetacean captivity sentiment and the resulting arguments since last summer, and certain aspects of it cause me certain distress. Now, I didn’t expect this article to make an impression, no, I presumed it would die a swift death view-wise with maybe one share from one of my few followers on Hubpages which would garner it some limited attention with pro zoo-minded individuals. Instead, however, this thing has become my most viewed article by far. I’ve gotten some praise, but the response was mostly overwhelmingly negative. Many posts called me an idiot, ignorant, and I even got one racist comment referencing the film’s title. Amusing stuff.


Regardless, SeaWorld is amassing heaps of negative backlash these days. Seaworld is mostly attempting to ignore its hellish July, including the release of the well-reviewed documentary Blackfish, two controversial Youtube videos showing alleged neglect of beached dolphins, and sold out copies of David Kirby’s Death at Seaworld on Amazon UK. Many animal rights activists are jumping for joy.


Now let me be clear on one particular thing. Being against the captivity of orca whales in no way inherently makes a person a supporter of animal rights, and by animals rights I mean animal liberation, which is an end to the use of animals for any form of human benefit. There are irrefutable issues that captive killer whales face which I consistently acknowledge, such as in this article (regardless of the title). I believe that social strife is the biggest issue with captive orcas, and the relatively small tanks exacerbate the problem (oracs unable to flee or resolve conflict). This is something that we can easily offer most land animals in zoos.


Britt Reints CC BY 2.0


I have spoken to many zoo supporters (and zoo workers even) who expressed that orca whales do not belong in captivity because they are simply too large for us to accommodate.


Completely fair observation. But.


The captivity of killer whales being such a hot button issue opens the door for more severe animals rights movements to push their philosophies and future plans such as the Non-Human Rights Movement, a movement that is being promoted to legislators by individuals like Dr. Lori Marino, who constantly shows up in anti-captivity documentaries and news stories to pretend she is merely an objective, well-respected neurologist.


 It is amazing how killer whale captivity can make people unwittingly profess validity to pure animal rights ideology.


Take for instance, the viral video posted by Youtube user Carlo De Leonibus. He claims to be a recent ex-Seaworld supporter after his trip to the aquatic zoo for his daughter’s birthday left him witness to a distressed, beached, pilot whale (of which an anti-captivity ex-Seaworld worker has said was “in no physical danger) that did not receive assistance for 30 minutes. This user is now actively advertising for anti-Seaworld efforts such as Death at Seaworld and The Cove, and appears to have morphed full swing into an anti-captivity activist like a perfect fantasy for people of this mindset. His video is now on an ‘approved comment’ setting (a recommendation from PETA and the HSUS?).


One particular thing caught my eye. On PETA’s video of another dolphin lying on the ground, this user made this comment:

“This is so sad. I am glad you guys got this video and posted. Another reason why animals do not belong in captivity.


Now animals do not belong in captivity? Animals, not just orcas, dolphins, and cetaceans. I don’t believe this was a slip of the keyboard. To be frank, I’m highly suspicious of the convenience that this scenario provides for animal rights efforts, but I’m evidenceless, so I’m not getting into that.


Based on what I’m seeing, activists have turned a once ‘ignorant’ SeaWorld customer into a full-fledged animal rights supporter who is now praising PETA and pushing anti-captivity rhetoric to the public. The fact simply remains that many animals thrive in captivity, and others do reasonably well, regardless of not having ‘freedom’. I can easily cite (and I frequently do) the many conflicts of the universally accepted captivity of animals like dogs and existence of any animal, including those in nature, is 100% rosy. 


Sue Talbert (CC BY-ND 2.0)


Animal captivity, whether it is pets or zoos, is not a simplistic subject by any means. Does an unexplained video of a dolphin lying on the ground ‘prove’ that no animals should be in human care? That logic is not valid.

Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has said that she doesn’t want SeaWorld to be shut down, but that she wants it to change. If she is being honest, I agree (as long as these changes don’t include converting SeaWorld into a museum with non-live animals). But her film (and other sources) seems to be promoting anti-captivity rhetoric that is damaging, misleading, and overtly, and perhaps intentionally, simplistic. 

People need to not lose sight of exactly what we’re dealing with here due to the captivity of 45 animals. They are certainly not the only animals whose welfare needs addressing, yet such issues can be considered without caving to animal rights ideology (this is why I chose to comment on the trailer). In addition, SeaWorld should be more forward with some of their inevitable non-successes…all zoos have them. The captivity of orca whales is a little over 50 years old, and we have yet to see what the future will bring.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Seaworld Trainers Ignore Beached Pilot Whale, An Overreaction?

A response to the "dolphin stuck at Seaworld" Video

Please understand that this post is neither a defense nor criticism of the SeaWorld parks that continue to gather negative opinions; just simply an observation and opinion. Strangely and conveniently enough, alongside the newly released anti-SeaWorld documentary Blackfish (a documentary that focuses on the danger and cruelty of killer whale captivity), an incriminating Youtube video surfaced, alongside a story (written by David Kirby, author of Death at SeaWorld) of a former SeaWorld-loving family who’s opinion of the aquatic zoo was changed forever. 

The Youtube video shows what is described as a distressed pilot whale on its side, struggling to get back into the water. This event took place during a rainstorm, and apparently the trainers were absent due to the threat of lightening. “The dolphin!!! He’s STUCK!” rings out at high volume in the video (therefore, it’s not safe for work, I made the error to view the video, unmuted, with my slow laptop). Another person shouts “what a f-cking jerkoff” next to the cameraman's young daughter (who he says is now an anti-Seaworld advocate), possibly referring to the uniformed employee who insisted the animal was “just playing”. The protesting from the audience undoubtedly makes the situation seem tense.

Here are the facts that we know; the animal was apparently out of the water in this condition for 20-30 minutes, and while dolphins (although I’ve personally not seen this done with pilot whales) beach themselves sometimes to hunt in the wild, it is not good for them to remain out there for extended periods. Cetaceans have very heavy organs that begin to cave under pressure when they are out of water, and they may also overheat which will lead to death. However, this probably takes hours to occur. Some dolphins and whales will beach themselves on land in the wild if they are sick or for other reasons less known. Pilot whales are the most notorious beachers.

SeaWorld has responded to the controversy stating that the “pilot whale was never in danger”, and that the animals often slide out on their own as they’ve been taught for medical checkups and performances. This is indeed true. There are Youtube videos of orca whales practicing their slide outs and even teaching it to their young. Pilot whales are less common in captivity, but they are taught the same thing as well. SeaWorld representatives also said that the trainers often wait and let the animal figure out how to get back in on its own, as the younger animals are less experienced with doing this.

So while all this information is valid, the pilot whale in question did appear to be in a somewhat awkward predicament unlike that of the animals in the videos I’ve cited. It doesn’t appear to me that the animal would have made it back had the trainers not helped it back in around 30 minutes later. The audience’s reaction may have been appropriate since they are not familiar with these animals or their behavioral patterns, but I do find their distraught response to be a little over the top. 

Even if Seaworld trainers were as horrific and villainous as they are often made out to be, there is no reason why they would intentionally harm these universally loved animals or allow them to suffer with such a simple resolution. Whatever your opinion may be about the captivity of dolphins and whales, this particular incident was likely blown out of proportion.

 To me, it seems obvious that the animals do consistently slide out, and it’s possible that while this particular slide out did seem concerning, the employee assumed it was a typical behavior and not an emergency. Had this not occurred during potential danger for the trainers (lightening) they probably would have acted much sooner. This video does not depict animal cruelty. It is extremely common for visitors to zoos whom are less knowledgeable about the animals in question to complain about perceived neglect. This can even happen if  you upload a video to Youtube 'roughousing' with your pet dog.

The sheer irony is that the particular distressed pilot whale would have succumbed to the same fate had it been left in the wild. The animal was rescued from a mass stranding and deemed unreleasable by the federal government. So while many people may have an anti-captivity ‘animals belong in the wild’ position, this animal wouldn’t be alive without human intervention and captivity. That is the reason I wrote this article.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Damian Aspinall Wants Zoos Abolished

Stupid Comments by Rich Zoo Owner

As I and others work tirelessly to formulate logical arguments for the public in an attempt to tame down the aggressive anti-captivity sentiment that will inevitably be lurking for the rest of humanity’s future, there will always be one threat to the existence of zoos and private facilities that is the most baffling of all—fellow zoo and exotic pet owners lashing out against the practice—some even doing so while continuing to run zoos or keep pets themselves. I am always mentioning people like Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue and Tippi Hedren of the Shambala Preserve for these reasons. Both were originally exotic pet owners and now continue to keep cats in captivity while deriding others for keeping ‘wild animals in cages’, which they perceive as cruelty. 
A giraffe at the Port Lympne Zoo. Karen Roe CC by 2.0

Animal cruelty, of course, is a dramatic accusation and if it had a shred of truth, these people would not continue to perpetuate it and upload Youtube videos touting their excellent care and happy, well-adjusted animals. The idea that animals should be ‘free’ is just an ideological mindset that does not take into consideration that many animals are just as ‘happy’, if not far happier, in captivity where they do not face poaching, starvation, and predation. The existence of bad zoos and bad exotic pet owners does not negate this any more than child abuse negates human reproduction. 

But now I think I’ve witnessed one of the most bizarre cases of captive animal hypocrisy that is so illogical and upsetting that I would like to think only harsh drugs can induce one to say such things. Damian Aspinall is an exceptionally rich owner of two private zoos located in England, having inherited his ‘passion’ for animals growing up privileged with his father’s truly large and dangerous exotic pets roaming his property.
So, just like Baskin and Hedren, he is not only a zoo owner, but a private owner of wild animals (the big kinds); a practice frowned upon by nearly all groups, from animal rights activists to zoo keepers (see how it's not such a black and white subject?). This ownership includes risky and controversial direct contact practices with said powerful animals, which consists of gorillas, big cats, and others. Aspinall continues to run his zoos and the Aspinall Foundation with his father’s philosophies, which includes close personal relationships between keepers and animals. At the Aspinall facilities, 5 keepers were killed over the course of 20 years, due to tiger maulings and elephant crushings. I believe his father's practices have unnecessarily resulted in the deaths of those people.

A zoo is a zoo. Port Lympne. Karen Roe CC By 2.0

Yet, this is a man who now has the audacity to state “we need to abolish all zoos” and that zoo animals are “prisoners without parole”. Really? Absent from the article is a discussion about Aspinall’s two zoos, Port Lympne and Howletts Wild Animal Park. It is apparent that Aspinall arrogantly and stupidly believes his facilities are ‘not zoos’.

Here is the dictionary’s definition of a zoo:

Also called zoological garden. a park-like area in which live animals are kept in cages or large enclosures for public exhibition”. 

However, zoos do not need to be public to be zoos. Either way, his facility is a zoo, regardless of space, regardless of how often the word ‘zoo’ is publicly criticized due to special interest organizations and know-it-alls who are sure animals ‘look sad’ when they visit.
An asinine statement such as ‘zoos should be phased out in the next 20-30 years’ needs to be followed with a discussion of WHY and what his outlook on his own zoo is. More importantly, Aspinall’s zoos engage in all the activities he laments against in the article, including using animals as entertainment. Even when animals are not doing shows, the prominent animal rights activists often accuse zoos of using wild animals as 'entertainment' for visitors, because a human looking at an animal and getting any sense of enjoyment from it is indeed exploitation. While Aspinall has a great aversion to ‘animals used for entertainment’, it is perfectly possible for animal shows and animal welfare to coincide with each other.


Apinall also states that it is “utter rubbish” that zoos are educational, while his zoo’s own website has educational opportunities for children (and adults) and ‘keeper for a day’ programs that tease kids into thinking that they can one day strive for a fulfilling zoo job only to realize later in life (as I did) that clowns like Aspinall and many others are doing their best to get the government to abolish them due to their emotional objections. 
In fact, here is another article showing Aspinall’s love for his early life growing up with exotic pets and being raised alongside baby gorillas…and now he advocates that it is an ethical crime for animals to be captive and allow people to even have the opportunity to see them

“What I mean by that (if zoos are not phased out) is that they only keep truly endangered animals”
Aspinall’s zoos have many animals that are not endangered, varying from ‘threatened’ to not really having any significant alarm over the species’ populations, or least concern. He also houses animals that are bred extensively in many zoos and private collections, such as tigers, and reintroduction programs with tigers do not seem very feasible (at best chance, they should be onsite). Breeding elephants is also very controversial.
This always seems to happen. I’ve been to a private zoo that, while touting itself as a conservation center, had many species that seemed to serve decorative purposes and interest value for the owner and the small amount of donators allowed in.

Zebras at Port Lympne CC By 2.0
More Contradictions 

“Some 80 percent of zoo animals are not in any sense endangered, he argued, adding they were either hybrid creatures with no conservation value, or on the contraceptive pill to stop them breeding and thereby pushing up costs.”
Entertainment? Karen Roe CC by 2.0
I have spoke about the ridiculousness of promoting conservation work while under the belief that ‘zoos are cruel’ before. If zoos are so “barbaric”, as Aspinall has stated in another interview, in no way, shape or form is it fair or ethical to subject animals to it due to the flimsy possibilities of re-introduction programs. Captive breeding, which Aspinall’s facility obviously partakes in, would inevitably result in the ‘forced imprisonment’ of hundreds of animals suffering in the “barbaric” conditions, waiting for a release opportunity that may never come either due to the animal not meeting the demands or the wild simply not having the room. 
 “What we’re doing is culturalising our children to say it’s OK that man is the dominant species.
“It’s just wrong. We need to de-culturalise the public and phase zoos out."
Flat out bizarre. His zoo website completely encourages the public to attend and be thrilled by seeing animals, including educational opportunities for aspiring animal keepers. Is it wrong for humans to be the dominant species? Nature doesn't really subscribe to our human morals, dominant as they may be.

Final Thoughts 

Sometimes I fully regret having to be interested in the field of animal husbandry. It is often treacherous terrain, with even zoos and other keepers at ends with each other due to their differences in opinion (and I certainly have my own). There is, however, nothing more atrocious than throwing everyone other than yourself under the bus, and having the sheer arrogance to attempt to legislate your ideological opinions.
It’s great that there are some millionaires who, instead of splurging their earnings on massive, insubstantial displays of wealth, instead opt to put it to good use. It’s wonderful that Aspinall has the money to provide expansive enclosures, fund gorilla reintroduction programs, and pamper his animals. Yet if Aspinall wants to make arrogant, elitist claims like ‘zoos should end’, he should then dedicate his funds to some real studies to contribute to animal welfare research which will provide real evidence to the non-feasibility of zoos coinciding with animal wellness. Otherwise he is clearly on a destructive power trip looking to make an unfortunate mark on our society. 

*Note: it has been brought to my attention that Damien doesn't 'own' these zoos, but that he is a trustee.