I grew up dreaming of being a Sea World killer whale trainer. As a child, watching from the bleachers in my rain coat, I bought into the fairytale that the animals were having the time of their lives. I wanted to be in the tanks with them, splashing in the water and being the object of envy of every other child watching. I found it amazing that such extraordinary creatures would befriend a human, and I daydreamed of one day having my own pet orca.
As I grew up, I realized that training animals is not what ignited my dreams of working at Sea World. It was my love for animas. Which then led me to open my eyes, and realize that the practices at most zoos and circuses were anything but dreamy. I, like many, had been lied to by tactful advertising.
After researching and being shocked at what I found, I decided very early on that I would never take my future children to a zoo or an animal circus. I didn't want them to grow up seeing animals as a source of entertainment. I know going to a theme park makes for a great day of fun, after all I was a child once, and my parents took me with the best intentions. However, knowing everything I know now, I couldn't possibly bring my future child into a place that represents fun for humans and suffering for animals.
It's very cute to see a a baby elephant balancing on a ball. We all find it comically adorable, in the moment. What we don't see, is that the poor elephant has been tied and whipped into submission in order to get that trick down. We don't see that the wild cats and small mammals have been caged, overcrowded and neglected while being transported in unsanitary trucks to next performance. We don't see the panic a zoo mother experiences when she's ripped away from her babies too early. The sad truth, is that these seemingly cute animals are not happy. They don't want to perform, and they are isolated from their kind. Even when big efforts are made to fake a natural environment, their enclosures are far too small, and they have a limited and depressing life. Orcas are forcibly bred, isolated from their families, and condemned to live in overcrowded treated water tanks. Dolphins, highly sensitive creatures, are available to the public in petting pools, where they can be exposed to bacteria and stress, causing ulcers which they then need to be treated for. Their intelligence is used against them to provide cheap tricks for an audience, during which they can incur injuries, or even death.
I don't want my future child looking through a glass wall at a seal swimming in small circles and performing for some dead fish. I don't want them watching a trainer, who is is maybe misguided himself, riding on the back of two dolphins in a pool just before the park closes, and those dolphins get to spend the next 14 hours in a small tank of chlorine marinade until their next show. I don't want to teach my child that we should spend money to watch people exploit animals, and then conceal it with pretty advertising.
Instead, I hope to save the money I would spend on overpriced entry tickets, and take my family to animals sanctuaries and wild life rescues. I hope to teach them that we should save, rescue, care for, and protect animals. I want to teach my future child to be kinder than my generation is. I want them to be so selfless, that they want to stop the unnecessary suffering of an animal before they feel the need to be entertained. I want them to stand up for the defenseless, and to not buy into what media and advertisement sells them, just because everyone else does. I want them to question things before they believe it, or at least research it before they decide it's for them.
Most parents see a fun visit to a park as a harmless way to entertain the kids for a day. Maybe they will judge me for not actually being a parent yet, and already making decisions for what I will do. But at the core of this isn't a parenting position, but a humane issue. If we can't at least agree that forcing wild animals to live unnatural lives for our enjoyment is unkind, then we probably wouldn't agree on a lot more than just this topic.
It's not for anyone to judge families who do go, after all I was one of those kids myself and didn't mean any harm, as of course no parent does when taking their kids to a show. But with all the information we have today, I feel it is our responsibility to make better decisions for the environment, and for other living beings. The way I see it is, why not take the opportunity to help make the next generation better, instead of teaching them that if they don't go they will be "missing out" on something?
The reality of zoos and animal theme parks is not one of a fun, family day. Parks and zoos do a beautiful job at selling the message that they are "animal friendly," but at the end of the day, no matter their efforts, those animals should never be in captivity. Captivity is cruel, no matter how pretty you paint the picture. Wild animals are not meant to be ridden, petted, swam with, carried, trained, owned, or laughed at. They should be in the wild, undisturbed, and protected. Our job as the new generations of parents and future parents, is to not turn a deaf ear to the cries of these defenseless animals, and to raise up a generation of kinder human beings. One who will put the interest of helpless animals, above their own need for entertainment.