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.