Sea lions are carnivorous wild animals whose natural diet consists of fish and other marine animals. Males can weigh up to 600 pounds and can grow to a length of around eight feet. Females can exceed 200 pounds and grow to around six feet long. Both males and females can be aggressive and, when threatened, cornered or competing for food, there are a number of reports of sea lions attacking people. For example, at the end of April, a man had to have 20 stitches in his hand after he was dragged overboard his boat by a huge sea lion who grabbed a large fish he had caught. Speaking to the press after the event, the fisherman said “[The sea lions] are very aggressive, and I want parents to know that you should not let your children get within 10 feet of them.”
His statement makes perfect sense; of course it isn’t wise to try to interact closely with huge, wild, carnivorous animals. They are beautiful, fascinating and a joy to observe from a distance which is safe for both people and animals, but they are not cuddly pets. And yet, zoos and circuses continue to treat sea lions as comedy side-show spectacles and allow their guests to interact closely with them.
The Downside to Wild Animal Spectacles
Sadly for one little boy, this irresponsible practice led to him spending his tenth birthday in hospital. Recently, it was reported in the press that a ten-year-old boy had been mauled by a sea lion during a “swim with” activity at a zoo in Tenerife, Spain.
Thankfully, the young boy is set to make a full recovery but had to have stitches for the gaping wound he suffered during the attack. The zoo told the family that the animal was “tame,” allowed the boy to “kiss” the sea lion and then allowed him to swim with the huge carnivore in a swimming pool. While we would consider any show involving performing wild animals cruel, we are also deeply concerned at the tendency of zoos, circus, and the wider entertainment industry to present potentially dangerous wild animals as safe for people to interact with.
The Growing Danger to the Public
In recent years there appears to have been an increase in zoos and other animal-use companies explicitly encouraging and promoting direct interaction with animals via feeding experiences, “keeper for a day” experiences and handling experiences; both with large predators and smaller animals.
In addition, “walk through” enclosures are becoming a staple feature of many zoos. Use of wild animals as “photo props” both inside and outside of zoos has been highlighted by a number of animal welfare organizations around the world as damaging to the individual animals and to conservation; while posing a direct threat to the people having their photos taken. All of these activities, combined with the ability to share photographic and video evidence of these experiences online, are likely to lead to a belief amongst members of the public that it is safe (and desirable) to get up close and personal to wild animals.
This warped view of the dangers posed by wild animals is perhaps best represented by the numerous instances of people being injured in zoos in recent years when deliberately attempting to interact with animals such as big cats and great apes. Last year, a spate of incidents in zoos occurred in quick succession. For example, a woman from the United States had the end of a finger ripped off by a lion when she allegedly tried to pet him. A few days later and it was reported that a young boy had had to have his whole arm amputated after he attempted to feed meat to a tiger in a Brazilian zoo; his actions allegedly encouraged by his father. A volunteer apparently attempting to interact with an orangutan in Mexico also lost a finger and a report from Chile on the same day confirmed that another child had a finger partially bitten off by a monkey in a zoo.
Avoiding Cruelty and Promoting Safety
It seems to us that, while zoos and the animal entertainment industry continue to promote wild animals in captivity as somehow more “tame” or “safe” when compared to their free-living counterparts, tragic incidents such as those listed above will continue to happen.
Here at One Green Planet, we want both people and animals to be safe from harm, and that means avoiding interacting with wild animals in captivity. Please do not take part in animal encounter experiences with captive wild animals and seek ways in which you can learn about and appreciate animals without posing risk to them, or yourself and your loved ones.
Lead photo source: Nicholas Wang/Flickr