Monday, April 1, 2013

Captivity ... and Captivated

This is going to be a little out of nowhere ... but in the past few weeks, several people have asked me how I can work for a ZOO that captures wild animals and forces them to perform for people, all while performing horrible experiments on them.  So, I feel the need to say a few things.  I hope I don't offend anyone, and I sincerely hope that you'll listen to me and truly take what I have to say into consideration.

Point 1:  Zoos, Circuses, Etc ...

For hundreds of years, people have been putting animals on for shows - lion tamers, exotic animal zoos, and the like.  I have never ever said this is acceptable, it is just the way it has always been.  As times have changed, I would like to think that we have changed a little bit as well.  Zoos have become educational centers for school field trips and family outings.  Circuses are still entertainment, but I would like to think that their views of animals have changed as well.  I am not naive, I know that not everyone has the highest of standards, but I think the majority of institutions have changed their tune.  I think most places now realize that animals have feelings, too, and need and deserve to be treated with respect and care.  Slowly, I think humans are learning that we are all connected on this planet, and we must all work together if we are going to be healthy as a whole.

Point 2:  You know it wasn't actually ME, right?

From here on out, I'd like to be specific about Sea World.  I've never worked for any other establishment that has animals, so I can't speak for any of them.  (That being said, I have worked for a LOT of places where people act like animals - and far worse.  But ... I digress.)  Even more specifically, the biggest controversy at Sea World revolves around Tilikum the whale.

Tilikum is the largest orca in captivity.  If you've never seen him in person, simple numbers don't do him justice.  This guy is HUGE.  If you have never been to a Shamu show, the bottom tier of the stadium is the "splash zone".  Tilikum would often make splashes so big that it would go into the center of the top tier.  If you are in that stadium when he is performing, there is no guarantee that you will be dry!  He came to Sea World in January of 1992.  That summer, my mom and I got annual passes to Sea World, and we visited quite often.  In 1996, I went to work at the park, and loved watching the Shamu show with Tilikum performing.  To be honest, I can't even tell you how many shows I've seen with him ... LOTS, I guess.  :)

Tilikum was captured off the coast of Iceland when he was only three, and taken to an aquarium in Canada.  I wasn't a part of the team, I was only a child.  I didn't decide his fate.  I don't think I would have made the same decision - I don't even have pets, let alone wild animals.  Altho, I do have kids.  (Enough said.)

I don't think we can make the people involved in any of the present situations guilty for the actions of people that took place years ago - even before most of us were born.

Point 3:  Turning it around

One of the coolest things that I've seen Sea World do is all of the rehab and release they do.  When I worked there years ago, there was a manatee named Rita.  Rita was **huge** and one of her fins had been lost due to a crab trap.  After living for years at SW, she was able to be released into the wild.  How cool is that?  In the last forty years, SW has released more than 20,000 animals after rehabilitating them.  That is serious animal commitment.  That isn't just grabbing a whale out of the ocean and making it due tricks for cash.

Point 4: What if there is a point?

Have you ever just sat back and watched these animals?  The orcas are majestic, the dolphins are wily and entertaining.  I love watching the serenity of the manatees.  Don't even get me started on my love for the sharks, because they are **amazing** and I love them.  I also love watching elephants, tigers, gorillas, alligators, and almost every other animal in captivity.  (Just not snakes, frogs, lizards, bugs, or most species of bird.  Ew.  Just me, though.)  I love watching my children watch the animals.  I love that my 6-and-a-half-year-old can start a conversation with an education person or trainer and impress them with her amount of knowledge about many different animals.  I love that my children know to cut plastic rings, put plastic bags in the recycling bin, and pick up litter and trash whenever we're out in nature.  Not just because we've taught them to, but because they know that plastic rings can choke animals, plastic bags suffocate them, or look like jellyfish to sea turtles, and trash poisons the water, damages land, and kills animals.

And, at the end of the day, isn't that the point?  To teach our children *why* we need to work together to save our planet?  I am going to be completely honest with you, I watch Shamu and I am hypnotized. The power and beauty that these animals possess is just amazing.  Watching them fly through the air, cut through the water, or come up to the glass and interact with my children?  I don't have words to describe how overwhelmingly phenomenal that is to me.  These are experiences that would be impossible to have in the wild.  We can see how intelligent they are, and we begin to love them.  Once you love something, you do anything you can to save it - and that is the point.  Saving the whales, saving the ocean, saving the planet.

Should we have ever starting capturing animals for our entertainment?  No.  But now that we're here, let's make the best of the situation, and teach people why it is so important to save all the animals.  God created all of the creatures of this planet to fit together symbiotically, and we must all work together to keep the planet in check.  If you want to be upset about something, how about the sharks that get butchered and used as bait for other sharks so that their fins can be ripped off for shark fin soup?  Very few things in this world tick me off more.

Point 5:  Our own captivity

When I started thinking about captivity, I couldn't help but to think about the things that hold me - and my fellow humans - captive.  What keeps me in my cage?  For years, it was the pain that I held deep within my own heart.  Today, we celebrated Easter - the Resurrection of Jesus.  When I started going to church eleven years ago, I didn't even know I was caged.  It has only been in my journey since then that I have found true freedom.

How does that relate to Shamu?  We all have a purpose in life.  I have been able to help people that I never would have met, and I have been befriended by amazing people that I never would have crossed paths with.  Tilikum, and other animals like him, have paid a huge price by living in their confined quarters.  But think of all of the people who have opened their eyes to new worlds because of them.

All of the fluffy bunnies have a purpose in this world.  Even 12,000 pound killer whale-type-bunnies.

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