Many and strong opinions: I hate loris tickling videos, and I always will.

The universe seems to be conspiring against me this week, filling my feeds and IV lines of internet with images I utterly hate seeing.  Images I have to pause, cancel, or report when I see them because, yes, I feel that strongly about them.  Loris tickling, elephant rides, swimming with dolphins, posing with tigers, and that goddamn Android commercial – they all make me cranky.

Why are these images so bad?  Well, they all depict wild animals with humans, either being abused, neglected, or poorly treated, or being treated as pets, which is only marginally better.  In no universe do I support wild animals being kept as pets – I believe there is always a better solution, though, I will admit, not necessarily a quick better solution.  And not only do I believe that wild animals are not pets, sharing and viewing these images contributes to the problem more than to the solution – regardless of how cute they are.  So here they are, my many and strong opinions regarding the adorableness that is lion and chimpanzee, bear and tiger, and any parrot in a cage.

IMG_2237Where baby animals should be: with their mamas.

A brief explanation of why wild animals should never be pets

I worked with mostly orphaned chimpanzees when I lived in Africa, all victims of human actions – the vast majority of whom lived with people for at least a few years before they made it to a sanctuary.  These chimps were, of course, duly thrown away once they became too large, unruly, willful, and generally chimpanzee-ish for their humans to appreciate or control any longer.  So there’s your reason number one – wild animals are just that: wild.  They don’t play by human rules, and their natural selves are not appropriate for any human setting both due to danger to the humans and to the animal in question.

Then, of course, there are the inferior nutritional, space, and cognitive needs of wild animals that almost all humans are in capable of providing – either due to a lack of appropriate education or the general lack of human structures to contain wild animals. These, obviously, contribute to the likelihood that someone – animal or human – will be hurt.  And finally, and most importantly to me personally, no human can adequately provide for the social needs of a wild animal.  It is pure arrogance to think you can.  No animal is completely, utterly, entirely solitary – they all need to interact with others at least a little – and without other animals in their species, they are missing out on important social and cognitive stimulation that is horrifically detrimental in the long run.

Of course, many others have written about this, so there’s no need for me to continue to beat the dead horse.

IMG_7861Mmm not in my house, thanks.

But lots of the animals in those videos aren’t pets! They are just hanging out on a lawn with a puppy!

This is true.  Much of the media showing wild animals in inappropriate settings doesn’t show them specifically as pets, but in settings where, at least to me, they are being housed extremely inappropriately.

IMG_5147The opposite of inappropriate housing: in a giant enclosure living with her new family.

So those adorable tigers at the sanctuary, they’re clearly not pets, right?  Definitely not.  They definitely wouldn’t have been separated from their mother at birth, replaced with piglets dressed in tiger skins so the mother doesn’t get mastitis.  Those cubs definitely wouldn’t have been bottle raised by humans, and then sedated for tourists to take pictures of them.  They definitely won’t be discarded when they are too big or rowdy for tourists to cuddle, or subjected to the same breeding schedule as their mother – who has, by the way, already had another litter that has been taken away from her.  (She may also have eaten a pig or two.)

Of course, not all of this media is of animals living in baaaaaaaaasically the worst case scenario.  Many of these animals live in facilities that provide at least a modicum of care, don’t breed them back to back, and yet somehow still fall short.  Sure, a lion cub and a puppy playing together are adorable.  But why is that lion cub playing with a puppy instead of other lions?  It’s not like there are no other lions anywhere in the country or continent for a lion to be appropriately socialized with.  Okay, so maybe other lions weren’t easy to get a hold of.  Obviously a little socialization with a puppy is better than nothing?  Sure it is, until that lion becomes too big and strong to play with said puppy, and then it’s into solitary or conspecific housing with him.  And you know what skills a lion (insert any other wild animal here) isn’t going to develop growing up with a puppy?  Social skills with his own species.  I cannot tell you the sadness I have witnessed in the chimps that were raised with humans for years – decades sometimes – and then dumped into a social group when their owners were sick of them.  It was emotionally devastating.

IMG_3401Poco — sweet, kind, and hated every minute of having to live with other chimps.

It’s a lot like an orphan colt that’s been raised in a house, watching TV with people, sitting on the couch, sleeping in the dog beds, and generally enjoying a lot of human company  When he grows up to be big, mouthy, and hurt people – and he will – what happens to him?  (I haven’t seen the documentary, but I’ve been told by many that Buck covers it.)  I would posit that it’s more than mere negligence or a poor choice for a colt to be raised this way – it is cruelty.

Those animals are already in captivity, so why shouldn’t I watch a video of them?

You’re right, in many cases the animals in those videos were taken out of the wild or bred many years ago, and the videos of them are really just soooo cute.  So why not watch the videos of them?  It’s not like you’re watching a video of a baby chimp being brutally ripped off of his mother and handed to a human as a pet – how much harm can watching those adorable loris tickling videos really do?

Well, studies on how images influence public opinion have shown that every time someone sees a picture of a primate in a non-wild setting, they are more likely to think both that a) primates make good pets and b) the primate in question is not endangered and populations are doing excellently in the wild.  Every book cover where some white lady is playing with a baby chimp, every video where a tourist bottle feeds a tiger, every selfie with a monkey, every elephant ride, every time someone sees one of these things, it tells their brain that doing those things with those animals is normal, acceptable, safe, and not harmful to the animals in question.  But what do you think happens to the elephants that refuse to carry passengers anymore?  To the macaques who steal too many cell phones, sunglasses, or the dignity of tourists?  To those baby tigers when they grow up and aren’t cute or compliant enough for people to bottle-feed them and take pictures with them?  I know, and I can tell you, it is nothing good.

Even images of animals with other animals can have a harmful effect on public opinion.  Every time I see that Android commercial I cry a little inside – why is that lion cub hanging out with a bulldog instead of its mother and brothers?  Why is that elephant hanging out with a black lab instead of her mother, sister, and daughters?  Why is Roscoe the orangutan playing with a dog instead of with other orangutans his age?  WHY ARE A BEAR AND A TIGER SO BONDED TO ONE ANOTHER?!

IMG_7764

So there you have them – a few of my many and strong opinions.  Now, this is not to say all captive institutions are bad, and I could talk your ear off about zoos, sanctuaries, accreditation, and the rest of it.  I hope that this gives you a little insight to why I don’t watch those videos, and I hope you won’t watch them in the future either.

The studies mentioned above, regarding images and public perception of apes, can be read below.  They are public-access and very well written!

Ross, Vreeman, Lonsdorf.  2011.  “Specific Image Characteristics Influence Attitudes about Chimpanzee Conservation and Use as Pets

Leighty et al. 2015. “Impact of Visual Context on Public Perceptions of Non-Human Primate Performers

 

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22 thoughts on “Many and strong opinions: I hate loris tickling videos, and I always will.

  1. Thought-provoking, and I generally agree. I saw the most infuriating Sea World commercial along these lines. I strongly believe in conservation efforts and wild animal rescue, but the commodification of such efforts truly upsets me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seriously, every time I see these things I’m like W. T. F. Dolphin Tale? Dolphin Tale 2? Yeah, totally “helping” public perception of dolphins and encouraging people NOT to pull them up out of the water or surf on them….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t have your experience with exotic animals (and chimps creep me out), but I understand where you’re coming from. In my part of the world, it’s the weird wolf fixation that makes me crazy.

    THEY AREN’T DOGS.

    Yes, they are related to dogs, but dogs have what, many thousands of years of domestication that completely alters their entire personality. Wolves don’t. Wolves are wild animals. Wild animals aren’t domestic and they don’t need to be.

    SO STOP IT ALREADY.

    Carry on.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a really great post for a lot of reasons. You and I share very similar thoughts about this, so I’m just going to leave my random related comments in bullet form.

    – I am obsessed with tigers. Always have been. When I was a kid, I did the whole ‘baby tiger photo’ thing and it was one of the best moments of my then 14 year old life. Now as an adult, I feel so ashamed we gave them their money. When I see them at Myrtle Beach I pause, because tigers are fucking cute… but then I walk away. It makes me so sad that it’s labelled as a ‘sanctuary’.

    – If you haven’t seen this documentary, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1111313/, watch it. It made me cry, but also just a really good take at ‘wild animals aren’t pets’ with some shocking images. More people should watch it.

    – Our local Austin Zoo is 100% rescue. They have a plaque near each big cat that says where they were rescued from (circus, road side zoo,e tc) and what. Enclosures are as nice as they can afford, which isn’t national zoo quality but definitely a huge step up from where they came from. Love this zoo!

    – I still like zoos and I still support animals in captivity, but only when we are either helping with conservation, research and public awareness… and only with natural settings. I get really upset about Dolphin shows and shit like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am watching that documentary immediately! I totally know how you feel about being obsessed and regretting former actions, I’ve done it too. Live and learn.

      I love ALL your comment additions. I support zoos and wild animals bred in captivity for conservation and education reasons also. Especially because more and more zoos are realizing the housing and enrichment needs of their animals and are doing a LOT to improve on their former ways.

      I also know there are exceptions to the “never touch wild animals” rules. I know that certain tamed animals are okay with it, especially when they have the choice to interact or get away. Specifically, I’m thinking of kangaroos in wildlife parks/sanctuaries/zoos in Australia. For the most part, they give zero fucks about humans hanging quietly with them. Similarly with (non-domesticated) rabbits and chinchillas. However, in general, my standard rules apply.

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  4. great post – lots of points i never specifically considered, but they resonate all the same. i’ve worked at a couple zoos (most recently in the membership office, so not really ‘hands-on’) and have a pretty strong appreciation for the AZA and their conservation efforts. but yea, exotics as pets really doesn’t do it for me. (and chimps scare the sh*t out of me haha)

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  5. I totally agree with you and have nothing else to add except the following:
    1. Chimps are still terrifying and I kind of hate you for showing that picture of their teeth. I’m going to go home and have nightmares now. Don’t mind me.
    2. Here is are 2 photos of animals living happily in their rightful habitat to bring your blood pressure down. https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5605/15619714407_2a2c3d458c_b.jpg & https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7508/15807933515_1cd91c323b_o.jpg

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Okay – I appreciate, and for the most part agree with the thought behind your well thought out post, but feel the need to defend my comment on the blog that helped generate this post.

    Yes – wild animals are not appropriate pets – for a zillion reasons. Duh.

    No – keeping wild animals in my home or yard is not okay. Actually, I’ve turned over numerous found wild animals on the island where I live to licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Watching a commercial isn’t going to change that. While I’m not super impressed with common sense quotient of the general public, I suspect there are others like me.

    No – zoos and sanctuaries are not the ideal places for wild animals to live out their lives but…

    …certain species – some of the great apes, the big cats, rhinos, elephants etc. appear to be facing extinction within decades. If faced with captive breeding programs vs total extinction, as bad as that choice is – I’ll reluctantly support some captivity until habitat loss and poaching can be addressed. The thought of a world without all of those species in it is very hard to accept. (not talking about species who are not under threat)

    Yes – I (totally) enjoyed that Android commercial. The message of it – togetherness overcoming differences – and the music which was perfect. The makers obviously didn’t put as much thought into how they illustrated that point as we have.

    Without knowing the circumstances of all the animal pairs featured in it – I’ll withhold judgement because – holy cow the internet is slam full of judging and it’s really annoying. I know at least one of the pairs lives at a sanctuary. It’s possible that others do as well – we can only hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely wasn’t trying to respond only to your comment; so many other things came up this week that came into this. And I do really appreciate your response here.

      Here’s my objection to non-qualified or -certified centers/sanctuaries breeding and even housing endangered animals: those animals, and very likely their offspring and offspring’s offspring, will never be appropriate for release. They don’t contribute positively to generic variation because their breeding is frequently unregulated and often includes inbreeding. They are not housed, socialized, or given the appropriate environmental experience to be truly valuable to conservation programs. And they frequently are part of experiences and media that contribute to those unfortunately negative human perceptions of conservation state in the wild. Which is exactly the opposite of the conservation value provided by zoo programs. In my, admittedly harsh, opinion, it would be better for some of those animals to never be born at all than be born into an uncertified “sanctuary”.

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      • To be sure – not all “sanctuaries” or zoos for that matter, are reputable and /or qualified, much like many horse “rescues”.

        I think the (very sad) fact is that life in captivity may ultimately be the only option left to preserve some species until humans get their sh*t together.

        I’d be interested in your opinion on this zoo in Australia that has a Sumatran tiger captive breeding program with unusual strategies for preservation, which do not include release as the ultimate goal. Here’s a link to the BBC site, which I think will get you to the episodes.

        Enjoying the intelligent dialogue 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am very much enjoying this discussion, thank you!! 😀

        I didn’t even get very far into that website — I think that is a terrible way to “conserve” Sumatran tigers. Every one of those tigers is going to be a failure in the wild, because they will be super habituated to people, and habituated to people means “quickly turns to eating people” when they are released into the wild. And eating people = death.

        I too agree with you that captive populations may be one of the last strongholds of certain species, but I also believe that it’s important to know when enough is enough. For example, the conservancy I lived at in Kenya had four of the last six remaining Northern White rhinos in the world. They spent MILLIONS protecting them and trying to get them to breed — for what? Nothing. Four individuals does not a viable population foundation make. I definitely did not support that — but it got them a lot of attention and a lot more money, much of which they just poured back into those rhinos.

        From my experience (and in my opinion), captive breeding programs in range areas are the only ones that will matter in the long run. There’s too much early experience that goes into preparation for the wild that can’t be learned outside of range areas (or individuals learn the wrong things!).

        In addition — and I’m saying this not because you don’t understand but because you’ve sparked my thoughts and it bears expounding upon — “sanctuaries” that choose to socialize a lion with a dog or bear instead of finding them an appropriate species-mate are unlikely to be reputable. I totally understand that there are situations where individuals MUST be socialized outside of their species — individuals with cognitive deficits or physical limitations, for example — and of course media of these situations will exist. I just cringe inside a little whenever I see them because I know what damage they can cause.

        Next week I will continue to spark this discussion by posting video that is going to contradict my former statements! Though not really, it will just seem to do so.

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  7. The show Fatal Attractions just drives your points home even more. I wish everyone would watch it and get it through their obscured brains that these wonderful creatures belong in the wild.

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    • There is a show about this??! Oh dear lord. I’ve watched a few of the “WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK” documentaries and always come away with the overwhelming feeling that they deserved it…

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  8. Seeing the picture of the armed guards around the last male White Rhino this week made my eyes tear up. It’s just so sad that their existence has come to that point.

    At our last base, Holloman AFB, NM, they still have the “Monkey Farm” and it was close to the barn. You could hear the chimps going crazy and screaming when they all got stirred up about something. Their program is now defunct and they stopped testing on them years ago, but they are there to live their lives out in that facility. When they are all gone, the facility will close. My office actually got to take a tour of the facility because we always were involved with their legal issues.

    Despite the sad fact that they are in captivity, were part of the space program, and have been tested on, the facility is actually very, very nice. They have their own vet clinic with a surgery suite. When one of the chimps needed an ACL repair in his knee they flew in a surgeon for the Vanderbilt football team to do it. Air Force dentists clean their teeth, they get fresh fruits and veggies from the commissary, and they have staff there 24/7. It was a very interesting tour. There is also a section for those that are infected with Hep C and HIV/AIDS. They were infected with it when they were part of the testing program. It is dormant in them and they suffer no effects from it but they are still segregated from the general population.

    It was very sad to see them all there at the “Monkey Farm.” Though I did feel some relief to not have to wonder anymore what the hell is going on over there when we could hear them from the barn.

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    • I actually think all the Holloman chimps have been moved at this point, to the sanctuary known as Save The Chimps in Florida. I could be mistaken, however.

      I completely agree with you regarding animals in research, actually. I know that there are some necessary evils, the thing that I object to are the unnecessary ones. There’s lots of good AND bad surrounding biomedical research. I am really glad to hear that the base allowed people to see the facilities, because I think transparency and communication regarding sanctuaries and research are really important.

      Often when I hear children screaming at the park I get a little riled up thinking it is chimps near me. Side effect of my past research, I guess.

      Thanks for sharing Stacy!

      Like

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