There’s usually something for everyone at an amusement park, which is what makes them so appealing. Thrill seekers have roller coasters, the less adventurous have shows and everyone can usually settle on some kind of grub to fuel the tank. But what if you combined an amusement park with a marine park, threw in a zoo and provided circus type shows all in one? Seems like a whole package of family entertainment in place! Does this place exist in real life? Sure does, and it is called Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, located in Vallejo, California.
Increased prices for entertainment, coupled with the pressure of planning the perfect vacation for the family, can definitely make a place like this seem like the perfect choice. Much of the park has some pretty cool stuff by way of rides, like many of the other parks in the Six Flags Franchise. Where the park loses its cool, and goes straight to cruel is in the animal portion of their plan. Like many other zoos, circuses and water parks, their claim for keeping animals is grounded in “conservation,” so it’s understandable that visitors would feel that the animals are actually being helped by living here. Sadly, that isn’t the case.
With their roots stretching all the way back to the late 60’s, when a compound that trained animals for television and movies merged with a failing marine park, this attraction has always been in the animal business. Six Flags Inc. took over in 1996 and began putting in the types of rides that they’re known for, eventually renaming the park Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in 2007. Through it all they’ve offered animal attractions and experiences with an amusement park flair in an effort to make things fun for all. Who it isn’t fun for, is the animals.
1. Where Do Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s Animals Come From?
The animals who live at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom come from a variety of places. Many were loaned in from other zoos or parks, some were raised in captivity – such as Odin the Tiger. Still others were taken from the wild, like each of the 15 elephants who’ve ever been housed there and several dolphins. The animals’ inability to survive in the wild is the go-to justification for keeping these animals at the park.
In discussing their wildlife shows their website boasts, “There’s no doubt that every animal, big or small, has a place in the eco-system!”
By this, of course, Six Flags means the artificial ecosystem they have constructed on the park. To date, the animals sent to Discovery Kingdom for rehabilitation or captive breeding are often put on display or put to work, not released back into their natural eco-system. At this time the only conservation projects that Discovery Kingdom has in place are to throw support behind other conservation programs.
2. How Are Their Animals Trained?
The elephants housed in the park are trained to put on shows for the crowd, much like in a circus. Asked to do tricks and behaviors that are not naturally done in the wild, captive elephants have to be broken as babies before they can be trained to perform these tricks. A trainer then stands by, bulhook in hand, to give the elephant their commands and ensure they remain compliant.
Dolphins are trained using a reward system in which a whistle followed by food is given when the dolphin figures out what the human wants them to do. If the dolphin fails to execute the command their trainer intended, the dolphin is ignored. Given their incredible intelligence and social natures, this puts the dolphins under a huge amount of stress. They are also only given food during training and performances to ensure that they will want to perform on command.
Tigers at the Six Flags parks are raised as small cubs and trained using operant conditioning methods. Food and water are withheld unless the tiger performs the task the trainer wants it to, basically forcing the tiger who would otherwise be hunting its own food in the wild, to beg.
3. Six Flags Discovery Park: History of Abuse and Animal Welfare Act Violations
In 2001, two former employees of Six Flags Discovery Park filed a report with the USDA alleging animal beatings, mistreatment, inadequate veterinary care and disregard for the animals’ welfare. Since 1997 at least 29 animals are known to have died at Discovery Kingdom, including eight elephants, two orca, four dolphins and a three-month-old sea lion pup to name just a few.
The animals aren’t the only ones being harmed, as both guests and trainers have been injured in animal attacks. In 1998, a bengal tiger called Puma attacked a guest and her trainer while being used for a photo-op session. In 2004, an african elephant named Misha gored her trainer as they were walking in her enclosure and in 2012, the killer whale known as Shouka lunged at a trainer and knocked them down.
Elephants used for rides also have to be broken in order to render them docile enough for this activity. This can be accomplished by having their feet bound for up to twenty hours per day for months on end. Elephants are also refused food and water and endure beatings until they lose their free-will. They’re then trained to obey commands. If they don’t comply, they’re abused with bull hooks.
Elephant rides are known to cause damage to the animal over time. Not only does carrying the heavy weight of humans damage the elephant’s spine, but it also causes damage to their feet, causing orthopedic injuries and arthritis. These issues often result in euthanization when the elephant is unable to perform their job duties any longer.
Given that an amusement park has sprung up all around what was once only a zoo and marine park, the animals are subjected to, not only the typical noise of patrons coming to view them, but also blaring music from loudspeakers and the rumbling of rides.
Fennec foxes are extremely sensitive to sound, yet their enclosure is right in the midst of the cacophony. Elephants sense sound through their feet, which means that they are never out of range of the rumbling vibrations of the rides and booming bass from the park sound system.
One of the more famous examples of disregard for animal welfare would have to be Discovery Kingdom’s treatment of Shouka the killer whale. Dubbed at one time “The Loneliest Whale in the World,” Shouka was removed from her family pod at Marineland Antibes in France and sent on a breeding loan to Six Flags. No breeding occurred in the 10 years that Shouka lived at the park. Instead she was forced into performing multiple shows per day for the crowds in her tiny pool.
Though she had companions from time to time, she spent half of her time there housed alone. The Animal Welfare Act stipulates that dolphins and orcas must be housed with others of their kind due to their social natures.
Many who knew of her plight felt the 19-year-old orca should be sent back to France to spend her days with the family of orca from which she’d been removed, away from the stress of having to perform daily shows. In 2012, Six Flags quietly made the decision to send her elsewhere after she publicly attacked her trainer. However, instead of sending her to a refuge or back to France, a deal was struck to send Shouka to SeaWorld San Diego.
4. Life in the Wild vs. Life in a Theme Park
Animals in the wild have habitats, diets, social structures and interests that vary as widely as the animals themselves. When placed in captivity, these individual needs and desires are simulated, which never lives up to the real deal. The animals are hand-fed instead of being allowed to hunt, their time is scheduled instead of defined by instinct, and to top it all off they are placed with other animals that they might not necessarily get along with. Across the board, theme park life just doesn’t compare favorably to a natural life in the wild.
Animals in a theme park are housed in conditions that perfectly mirror a zoo, the only difference being, there is more noise at a theme park. Animals are given enclosures that rarely account for the space that animal requires, and often lacks the enrichments, shade and natural features they could find in their own environment. Tigers, for example, generally avoid humans in the asian forests where they’re from, but in a theme park there’s no respite from the noise and presence of park guests that they not only must live in front of but perform for.
Most animals engage in playtime activities in the wild, such as jumping for dolphins and whales or throwing grass and even trees for elephants. In the captive environment of a theme park, these activities are curtailed to be done on cue as a part of a performance for paying guests, or eliminated entirely as many places don’t provide the proper materials to simulate real life playtime in captivity.
Animals such as orca, walruses, dolphins and elephants are profoundly social animals. They select mates in the wild and join with others of their kind to form pods, herds and families with which they travel, play and socialize. In a theme park environment, the needs of these social creatures are either ignored completely as an animal will be placed alone with none of their kind to socialize with or existing social groups are disrupted as parks “loan out” individuals to other parks. This not only disrupts and traumatizes the fractured group, it creates social problems with the new group when an outsider is brought in.
Orcas in the wild cover an average of 100 miles per day in the open ocean. In a marine theme park, they are confined to a pool that would feel no larger to us than a bathtub where their movements are limited to circling over and over again, covering a fraction of the distance they’re biologically accustomed to. This can lead to boredom, zoochosis and aggression toward trainers and themselves.
5. What YOU CAN and MUST Do to Stop This Suffering
After reading this we’re sure a Green Monster such as yourself is pretty upset about the way these animals are suffering. The good news is that you have the power to make a difference by simply refusing to buy a ticket to this establishment.
Boycott Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is a business and, as such, it runs on profits generated by ticket sales. Though Six Flags Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2009, the recovering economy has revenue for the company increasing. By patronizing establishments that do not feature animals and avoiding those that do, you can show these corporations what kind of entertainment you enjoy for yourself and your family.
Leave a Review on Trip Adviser and Similar Sites
While your individual boycott will make a difference, you can magnify its impact by spreading the word and mobilizing with your fellow Green Monsters. Send the message loud and clear that a theme park is a place for roller coasters and Ferris wheels, not animals!
Share this post in the review section of Six Flags Discovery Park’s Tripadvisor page to advise others not to patronize this attraction as long as they continue to use animals as entertainment.
Know of another attraction or establishment that should be banned for their treatment of animals? Let us know in the comments section so we can spread the word!
6. Take Action on Social Media NOW!
Participate in our social campaign and share why you are boycotting Six Flags Discovery Kingdom!
Share the graphic below to spread the facts about how Six Flags Discovery Kingdom treats their animals OR make your own selfie sharing why you boycott this theme park.
See example below:
“#IMAGREENMONSTER because I BOYCOTT #SixFlags #DiscoveryKingdom! Join me at @onegreenplanet http://onegr.pl/1r9O4tJ”
When you know the truth, it’s your duty to share, so share away Green Monsters and let’s put an end to the least amusing amusement park around!
Lead image source: SixFlags.com