United States of America, May 28, 2016. A gorilla living at the Cincinnati Zoo is put down after a child fell into its enclosure. Brazil, June 20, 2016. A jaguar who had participated in an Olympic torch event is shot dead after moving toward a soldier. In both cases, the animals’ deaths were decided to protect two lives, two human beings. The only problem is that human beings made a mistake first.
Brazilians, Americans, animal lovers and animal rights advocates are all outraged at these events. Both Brazil and the U.S. had completely different scenarios, but something in common: none was able to properly manage the situation. These episodes prove that: 1) We, as a society, are not prepared to deal with wild animals; 2) We treat animals as if they had no rights and their lives had zero value; 3) We still use them as trophies.
I’m not underestimating the risks imposed to the Brazilian soldier or the American child. The lives of a jaguar or a gorilla aren’t more important than theirs. The opposite isn’t true either.
Both Harambe (the gorilla) and Juma (the jaguar) were taken from their habitat. Look how their lives ended. I’m sick of hearing that wild animals have been held in captivity for their well-being. In some cases, it’s true. But it can’t be an excuse to justify every imprisonment. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), gorillas typically live in the lowland tropical rainforests of Africa. One of their main roles in local biodiversity is to help spread the seeds of the fruits they eat. But they’re facing risk of extinction due to hunting for bushmeat, habitat loss, wildlife trade and diseases.
Jaguars are also at risk. On its website, WWF states that they require large areas of tropical rainforest and stretches of riverbank to survive. These animals can be found in the Amazon forest, but hunting and habitat loss due to deforestation have threatened them. The press has published that Harambe was born in captivity in Texas, and transferred to Ohio last year. Juma was rescued with injuries years ago (story in Portuguese), after her mom had been killed. She was raised at a zoo located in a military base in the city of Manaus, in the Amazon.
Why did the Brazilian Army train Juma to participate in military events? Did they expect her to sing, dance and celebrate Rio 2016? The noise and the crowd must have driven her crazy. Obviously she was in distress.
Why had the American zoo not blocked the passage from the safe area to the enclosure? How did they know Harambe was about to harm the child? On the video, his moves didn’t seem delicate. But do we expect gorillas to move like ballerinas? If deforestation and hunting, for example, weren’t an issue in our societies, jaguars, gorillas and all the other wild animals would be safe in their own habitat. They wouldn’t need humans to keep them in captivity.
Zoos and aquariums should be shut down if they don’t change the way they operate. Animals in captivity due to health issues shouldn’t be tourist attractions.
A gorilla in a cage or a beluga in a pool sound like a person in jail. We can’t support that. We all — including the animals — deserve freedom. Wild animals aren’t pets, and shouldn’t be trained or join social events. We human beings will never be able to control wild animals — we barely control our pets.
I can’t stand mistreatment of animals, and that’s why I went vegan. But I’m sure there are well-intentioned staff in those places who are genuinely concerned about animal welfare. The point is, the way they operate needs to change. After being treated for whatever health issue they have and as long as it’s safe for them, wild animals should return to their natural habitat as soon as possible. If the only alternative is to keep them in captivity, they should live in proper conditions. Wild animals feel pain, loneliness and sadness. Like our pets. Like us. When we have pets, we move mountains to keep them happy and healthy. Why should other animals get a different treatment?
Photo credit: © Peter Hopper under Creative Commons via Flickr