Throughout this series, I have learned exactly how complex the issue of keeping wild animals in captivity is. While there are some benefits, many practices are simply unnecessary, cruel, and outdated. However just as my understanding of animal welfare concerns regarding captivity has deepened through my exploration of the topic, so has public opinion on this issue in recent years, sparking some changes. As I mentioned in previous posts, this includes SeaWorld’s decision to end orca breeding and Ringling Brother’s decision to not have elephants in their shows. In this last post, I would like to look into some recent developments and conclude what this means for the future of how animals are kept in captivity.
Major companies have shown signs of shifting in the right direction in the phasing out of animal entertainment now seem as inhumane. In October, the popular travel website TripAdviser announced that it would no longer be selling tickets to attractions in which visitors engage with wild animals. This decision was made in cooperation with animal organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and Global Wildlife Conservation. This new policy pertains to not places like zoos or aquariums, but rather attractions that include activities like “elephant rides, swimming-with-dolphin experiences and the petting of endangered species like tigers.” Additionally, the website will create a “wildlife tourism education portal” in order to make travelers more aware of animal welfare issues and to sway them into putting more thought into what animal attractions they visit and how they review those places. This is partially in response to an Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit study which found that while “between two million and four million tourists per year pay to visit attractions that are considered harmful to animal welfare”, most of these visitors do not even raise any of these concerns in their TripAdviser reviews. Ultimately, in what PETA called a “precedent-setting move”, TripAdviser is taking a stand against the cruel exploitation of animals practiced by many facilities around the world, even in the United States, and encouraging the public to not support such facilities, as well hopefully influencing other travel companies to follow their lead.
In another influential move, the National Aquarium in Baltimore announced recently that it would be creating North America’s first dolphin sanctuary, a decision that opens a new door to the possibilities of how we house captive wild animals. It is expected to be completed in 2020, with all their dolphins being moved to this more natural oceanside environment, likely to be either located in Florida or the Caribbean. This decision comes after much debate over keeping cetaceans in captivity, as seen in the film “Blackfish”. The aquarium has already stopped its dolphin performance shows. They base this shift on, as the aquarium’s chief executive officer describes, “emerging science and consultation with experts”, which have shown that dolphins “thrive when they can form social groups, have opportunities to express natural behaviors and live in a habitat as similar as possible to that for which nature so superbly designed them.” This new site will not only be much larger, but will also include natural stimuli like fish and marine plants, a great step up from the dolphins’ current aquarium pool. As the CEO puts it, they are trying to operate in a way in which “the needs and interests of the dolphins will come first”, which will hopefully be a trend going forward when it comes to these kinds of facilities.
Such advances have made it clear to me that our view of animals and what we see as acceptable ways to keep and interact with them in captivity is evolving. Even great institutions like the National Aquarium have room for improvement, even if that means making drastic and unprecedented changes. Hopefully such changes will continue, paving the way for a future in which we humans have a more respectful and considerate relationship with our fellow inhabitants of the earth.