It’s not about the animals; it’s about the industry
By Michael Mountain
Whenever there’s a potential danger to the animal captivity industry, you can bank on Jack Hanna showing up on TV in a funny hat, looking like he’s just back from saving animals in the jungles of Africa.
Hanna, the “director emeritus” of Ohio’s Columbus Zoo, is chief shill for the industry, which includes zoos, marine circuses, exotic animal importers and breeders, and the many other promoters of animals for entertainment.
When killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by orca Tilikum last year, Hanna was on TV within minutes. But he wasn’t there to put SeaWorld on the hot seat; rather to mount an urgent defense of the multi-billion-dollar corporation that would soon after be cited by the federal government’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) for “willful neglect.”
This week, instead of jumping in to protect the animals who’d been set loose to fend for themselves by the criminal Terry Thompson in Zanesville … instead of saying that it would be wrong for law enforcement officers to launch into a massacre of the lions, tigers, bears and others … instead of standing firmly for saving the lives of these innocent animals … what does Hanna do? He steps forward to advocate the mass shooting.
Why? Because for people like Hanna, it’s never about protecting the animals; it’s always about protecting the industry.
Hanna’s immediate calculation was based on how to minimize damage to the captivity and entertainment business. The last thing he wants is a long-drawn-out series of news reports focusing on danger to his potential customers. The last thing he wants is the possibility of stories of lions chasing people through the woods or down the streets. Get the whole thing over with that same night, swallow the bad news, and be back on Leno and Letterman as quickly as possible with cute baby sloths and exotic kitties to woo people back to the zoo.
The exotic animal business is bad news for animals in every way – from roadside zoos through reptile stores to circuses and marine “parks” to high-end zoos. Sure, some of them may be better than others, but they’re all basically in the business of entertaining people – with some occasional good works thrown in to protect their reputation. The regulation of these outfits is left primarily to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which is not a watchdog but a trade association that’s bought and paid for by the zoos themselves.
When it comes to exotic animals, the state of Ohio, where Hanna’s zoo is located, has some of the loosest regulations in the country. Ironically, it can be harder to have a pit bull in Ohio than to have a tiger, bear or poisonous snake.
What could have been done
If Hanna had cared about the animals, what could he have done instead of urging the sheriff’s department to kill them?
First, put out an emergency curfew to keep humans and their pets indoors, and have police patrols out to enforce the rule. Round up wildlife experts and trappers from across the country, and get them on the job fast. Have the AZA and its zoos offer to pay for the operation. Most important, take the killing option off the table except in the unlikely case (the animals had all been fed) that someone is actually being eaten by a tiger. And finally, when the animals have been rescued, put all the resources of the AZA on the side of getting them out to sanctuaries, or at least to the best zoos in the country, so they can have the best life possible for the rest of their days after the miserable existence they’ve been living at the appalling encampment of the criminal Terry Thompson.
But no, that would all have drawn too much attention for too long a time to the dark side of the captivity industry.
Plus, it would have raised questions, once again, about the whole practice of locking nonhuman animals up for the sole purpose of entertaining their captors and audiences.
Take a lesson from the no-kill movement
The Hanna/zoo response to a situation like Zanesville is similar in essence to how the humane movement used to respond to the so-called “pet overpopulation problem.”
Twenty years ago, when 17 million dogs and cats were being killed in so-called “shelters” every year, the explanation by the people who ran these operations was very simply: “We have no choice but to kill them … it’s very sad … but it’s a necessary evil … there are no alternatives.”
But the simple fact was that none of the people who talked like this were ever really looking for alternatives to killing. It was only when the infant no-kill movement stood up and said it was morally bankrupt for “shelters” and “humane” organizations to be killing the perfectly healthy, adoptable animals in their care that things began to change. Only when, one by one, communities around the country agreed to take killing off the table did the wealth of other possibilities come to the surface – spay/neuter and adoption programs, volunteers and foster homes, and then state laws that helped curb the mass killing of homeless pets.
As long as killing remains an option, be it for pets or wildlife, it will always be the first option – the easy way out.
People like Jack Hanna, who present themselves as guardians of wildlife, need to stand up for life, not death.
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