Losing Cats & Whales, Colltalers
‘Scientific.’ That’s how Japan calls its annual slaughtering of minke whales, which it resumed last week, defying public opinion and a 1986 international ban. While it disregards current wild life preservation efforts, it’s not an isolated act.
Just as last summer’s unconscionable killing of Cecil, the beloved African lion, by a prize hunter, didn’t halt the booming bred-for-hunt industry, what follows grief over violence against animals is more often inaction than institutional change.
One of the most disturbing trends, captive breeding of big cats, is actually increasing in Africa and in the U.S., even as their numbers in the wild are quickly receding. It’s not just that the morals of raising such amazing animals for the enjoyment of a few wealthy individuals is utterly questionable. But that such practices result in poor genetic pools due to in-breeding.
It produces disease and physical deformities-prone animals, that could never survive if released. Unfit to replenish the diversity found in nature, they could also represent a high risk of rushing extinction if in contact with wild populations.
There are now more big cats living in the U.S. than anywhere in the world, but the great majority of them has been raised in captivity. Since, thank heavens, they’re not bred for being hunted, there’s also the issue of how to create enough sanctuaries to provide for aging animals whose amateur caretakers are no longer
capable, or willing, to see to their well being.
That kind of distortion, of allowing individuals without training or unaffiliated with any program for wild life preservation, to raise wild animals, is but one of many discouraging signs related to this issue. Others could be the proverbial lack of funding for research, and even the impossibility of preventing wars from displacing them from their natural habitats.
Which is not to say that indignation about cruelty is meaningless, or not much has been accomplished to protect land and sea creatures. Despite our diminished attention span, there’s progress in several fronts, whether or not we learn about them.
Take the global trend of phasing out animal acts in circuses and zoos, which started with elephants and now is slowly involving big cats, apes, and some birds, while other species may be also considered soon. But, again, change takes time.
For every major zoo in a big city such as New York, London, or Amsterdam, that has or is in the process of eliminating exhibits of big, endangered species, thousands of others continue to abuse them for the sake of selling a few extra tickets.
The same with some of the world’s biggest circuses, such as the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey, which vowed to end the century-old practice, even as animal rights groups press for it all to happen much sooner already.
Even countries formerly from the Soviet Union bloc, such as Kyrgyzstan, where traveling dolphin shows, called Dolphinariums, long-banned in the West, remain popular, are under pressure to do way with that kind of entertainment.
In the U.S., after a string of deaths and instances of animal mistreatment, enterprises like SeaWorld have struggled, as audiences seem less interested in paying to see lifelong captive, small tanks-confined performing whales and dolphins.
Even though trapping and displaying wild beasts as a form of mass entertainment dates from thousands of years, collecting animals in zoos, for study, or presenting them as part of variety shows, as in circuses, are relatively recent.
The post Industrial Revolution years were marked by increased demand for leisure activities and urban entertainment, and attractions centered around exotic animals drew big crowds, curious to see them performing stage routines.
For over a century, there was no other way for people in the West to come face to face with a wild animal, and that also helped to create a new found awareness of the natural world. But we live in a completely different era now.
The steppes and jungles of Africa, Asia, and Latin America are no longer as mysterious as they once appeared, and even without ever leaving her room, a child of the 21st century can experience and understand what lays beyond it.
There are many contradictions and unresolved questions at the core of the international movement to preserve wild species, and the race is on to find ways to do it best, before they all vanish as many already have. No excuses for inaction, though.
There’s a lot that can and is already been done about preventing a mass extinction in our lifetime. Many are small, localized acts. After Cecil’s death, for instance, it’s now illegal for hunters to bring back to the U.S. their big game ‘trophies.’
No disrespect to groups and organizations which, in ways aggressive or not, have been pushing for a different approach, it’s often individual actions, focused bills here and there that may do the trick of changing our mentality about animals.
And then there’s a major, civilized, admirable even nation such as Japan, which along with Norway and Iceland, has the power and resources to advance the issue, but instead, dials it back at least 50 years. Their resistance, though, may not last, given the continuous pressure by the Japanese, and Norwegian, and Icelandic people. They should count on us too.
For conditions do change. Economic interests shift. New ways of thinking arise. Something can always be done. It’s either that or an incredibly depressing world with no animals, left to people who did not avoid their demise. Have a great one. WC