Jane says…

I feel a little bit like that stand-up comedian who carries on about why you park in the driveway and you drive on a parkway, but I’m plowing through the cliché anyway.


Anyone who has ever tried to contain a screaming toddler in an enclosed time-out space knows that attempting to keep wild things in captivity is a bad plan. Mother Nature is not a huge fan of the Zoo, or the Wild Animal Park, or the Sea World or Sea World derivative.

My dog is so utterly domesticated that she’s tried to sit in an easy chair and join in conversation during dinner parties. On more than one occasion. Nevertheless, that bitch still tries to bite my arm off if I make the foolhardy error of trying to take a hunk of rawhide away from her. Would you expect anything less from a tiger or lion or bear or predatory sea-dwelling mammal?

“But how do kids learn about animals if they can’t see them in zoos?” I’ve heard this before, and to those of you who would ask the question I say this, “Go away. You aren’t smart enough for me to talk to you.” PBS? The Discovery Channel? The Internet? Wait…wait…I got it…ready? Ready? Brace yourself…Books!!

Wild animals in captivity are entertainment, not education. Pretending otherwise is ludicrous. Zoos and the like exist for profit, not education. Certainly, there are conservation efforts that are supported by zoos, but I refuse to believe that kids wouldn’t be introduced to animals in such a way that they should grow up to care about their welfare if wild animals weren’t trapped and caged.

These animals don’t act like animals in the wild, and often they don’t even look like animals in the wild. They pace and develop other nervous tics, some dangerous to their physical health. They are often subject to changes in the environment to which they are unsuited – their cycles and rhythms are off. Without the opportunity to hunt, or be hunted, they aren’t fulfilling any evolutionary destiny or purpose either. They are bored. Taking another page from the toddler playbook, if you try to keep a bored toddler subdued for too long, you will end up maimed, or at least emotionally scarred.

Mother Nature will put up with a lot from us. But when she has something to say, she says it loud.

Note: I take my kids to the zoo. I’ve taken them to Sea World (boring and expensive). So, mommy’s a bit of a hypocrite. Mommy’s also a bit of a buzz kill, because the whole time we’re at the zoo, I’m pointing out how miserable the animals look, especially the elephants.

…but Dan thinks…

Dude, you look like your face was in your stomach.  Oh.  No shit?It’s funny. When we discussed our angles on this post, I was certain that for the first time, Jane and I were going to be on the same page. We were actually. going. to agree. I was considering calling The Guinness Book. But maybe that’s premature.

It’s not called a Snuggling Whale. A Happygoodtime Whale. It’s a killer. For prey like seals, they swim up from underneath them, wheel and swat them out of the water, into the air with their massive tails, knocking the seals unconscious; sometimes killing them with that single stroke. Then it’s lunchtime.

And they know how to hunt in groups. They are organized killers.

I love zoos. We have an annual membership to our local zoo and still find time to attend one or two others. For those that think that you can learn about the visceral experiences of life by reading about them or watching television, I’d suggest that they live pretty sheltered lives, and that thrown out into nature, those books will do little to help a person cope with dangerous encounters without real-life experience to back it up. Unless it’s a really heavy book and you have perfect aim.

Actual head of bear skin rug at Dan's placeIn my basement I have a beautiful bearskin rug I got from my father, a bear he killed while out in the woods, hunting. He hadn’t been planning on it. Wasn’t even hunting for bear. But he was in the woods, saw a 250 pound black bear and tried his best to stay out of it’s way. And he did, right up until it smelled him, or smelled his prospective next meal, turned and charged at my father.

Tiny black eyes, enormous head, mouth agape, slobber dripping in anticipation as he lumbered toward my father.

Kill or be killed. Right there. My father raised his rifle, drew a bead and placed a slug between the bear’s eyes, dropping his would-be killer. There’s absolutely no way a book or a made-for-television movie can convey that pants-filling experience. But being able to see a live animal in a less-than-natural habitat can at least expose us, our kids, to the size and majesty and strength and potential danger of these animals.

I want to make sure this stays focused – this post isn’t about how terrible it is that animals are in captivity. At least that’s not what Jane and I discussed before we started writing. This post is about the arrogance, naivete and even stupidity of intentionally courting danger with animals that can kill.

There's only one thing that smells like bacon and that's the thighs of a hammy B-list actor!Like the actor who thought he he could show the world how humane and lovable wild bears are, by embedding himself in their habitat, talking in falsetto to them, and then oops. Getting too close when food was scarce. Turns out that B-list actors are delicious.

Or Seigfried and Roy. “She was just trying to protect him.” Right. From not getting his head bitten off?

Or the three drunk guys in the Siberian zoo who decided to taunt the bears. And then one fell into the bear pit. Did you know whiskey makes an excellent marinade?

You can’t get the feel for rapelling down the side of a cliff, your stomach leaping into your throat, your bladder almost emptying as you look down, without actually strapping on the harness, leaning over that cliff, then jumping. But you do so knowing that if the rope is frayed, the harness unsecure or your technique is poor, you might plunge straight down to the rocks below.

So yes, it’s sad that that trainer lost her life to that killer whale. But as Jane and I said to each other in our post-planning meeting, “What’d you expect?”