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OPINION: Animal Conservation or Cruelty?

  • Ashley Hiemenz
  • 4 March 2010

It is well known that animals are a powerful tourism catalyst throughout the world. However, after the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau at Orlando SeaWorld

on February 22nd, many questions have again been raised about the exploitation of whales and dolphins as entertainment. SeaWorld, owned by Blackstone, is a profitable business that fills its stadiums day after day with thousands of viewers eager to watch animals do circus tricks. The animals live and perform in pools the conditions of which have been likened to a human spending the rest of his or her life in a bathtub.

The spinner dolphin is common to the waters of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, and most famous for its acrobatic displays. Some have been seen completing 14 spinning jumps one after another.

The spinner dolphin is common to the waters of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, and most famous for its acrobatic displays. Some have been seen completing 14 spinning jumps one after another.

And where do these animals come from? Tilikum, the orca responsible for the death of Brancheau, was taken from the wild off the coast of Iceland to live out the rest of his life in captivity. And as revealed in Louie Psihoyos’ heart-wrenching Oscar-nominated documentary, The Cove, many dolphins are also removed from their families in the wild – separating mother and calf – and then distributed to marine parks throughout the world. What happens to those who don’t get picked for marine-park training is yet another story altogether.

A Better Alternative

Many people argue that the current awareness and love for orcas and dolphins wouldn’t exist without parks like SeaWorld. Do I agree? Yes. But do I think there are better alternatives? Most decisively.

The most obvious problem with SeaWorld and other voyeuristic venues is that cash seems to come before conservation. Tilikum fathered 17 calves; those that survived were not set free, but kept in confinement. It is certainly true that the wild is not what it used to be; there are many more threats to wildlife survival. But is it in Ringling Bros. cages that we propose to preserve the future of the animals of this planet?

No. There are better options and better places to put your dollar. Brazil has led the way in promoting marine conservation by creating coastal sanctuaries that allow these animals to return to the wild, where they can swim up to 100 miles a day, as intended. Supporting local efforts like this result in conservation and awareness that create win-win situations for whales, dolphins and other sea animals, and those who admire them.

The grey wolf can now live protected from hunters in Estonia's Soomaa National Park (photo by Jarek Joepara)

The grey wolf can now live protected from hunters in Estonia's Soomaa National Park (photo by Jarek Joepara)

Of course careful conservation efforts aren’t limited to targeting marine life. For land animals, numerous sanctuaries have been developed that offer a better alternative to stressful and limited life in a zoo. Addo National Park of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, is refuge to massive herds of elephants that can live peacefully in a protected environment. In Sandakan of Malaysian Borneo, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre saves orphaned orangutans and eventually releases them back into the open forest reserve, where they can roam safely free. Soomaa National Park of Estonia is a protected area where wolves, bears, lynx and beavers can live without fearing the crosshairs of hunters.

These are just a few examples of the efforts taken around the world to protect local wildlife. With so many better alternatives, why not support endeavours that primarily promote conservation and education, rather than shameless profit at the expense of animals?

Animals can’t speak for themselves. We must speak for them. Use your dollar positively. Think before you spend.

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animal conservation, marine conservation, opinion, responsible travel,

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