Since the 2013 release of the film Blackfish, society at large has become increasingly aware that SeaWorld has been hiding a shocking dark side in plain sight pretty much from the day it was founded. Thanks to highly publicized controversies leading to the deaths of captive animals like Harambe the gorilla and Marius the giraffe, just about every zoo on the planet has been brought into question as well. Of course, were one to ask a member of PETA or any other animal rights activist organization, the horrors related to holding our furry friends in captivity is hardly new information.
Before we get into the harrowing details, let’s be fair and point out that simply going to a zoo or visiting SeaWorld doesn’t necessarily make a person part of the problem. The vast majority of people attending these establishments likely don’t realize how torturous the conditions can be for some animals living inside them. When confronted with a giant killer whale or a roaring lion live and in person, it’s easy to get distracted by the beauty and wonder of nature and forget these creatures live and breathe just like humans, and it’s impossible to properly compensate them for entertaining the masses.
That said, the fact animals don’t get paid for their efforts is pretty much the least of their worries. Creatures held in zoos and/or SeaWorld have the constant risk that human interference will destroy their natural habitat. Actually, that doesn’t even begin to describe the issue, as the fact is, nothing is natural about the habitat these artificial safari tours offer their residents. Anyone who needs a visual aid on exactly what we mean, keep reading for a glimpse at 15 disturbing images zoos and SeaWorld don’t want you to see.
15. Harambe And The Question Of Safety
Probably the most highly publicized incident to take place in a zoo over the last decade, the 2016 killing of Harambe is still controversial over a year after it happened. To recap, a 3-year-old child fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. Harambe, a 17-year-old lowland gorilla transferred to that zoo just two years prior grabbed the boy and carried him around the enclosure. Feeling the child’s life was at stake, zoo officials stepped in and shot Harambe with a rifle, instantly killing him and saving the boy’s life. While most experts, including renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, agreed killing Harambe was in the child’s best interest, the event nonetheless raised countless questions about zoos in general. An incident like this could obviously only happen in a place where gorillas were kept in captivity close to the public and proves that doing so adds an unnecessary level of danger to both the humans and animals involved.
14. Riding Whales Is Hard Work
By and large, this list is about the horrible conditions animals face when held in captivity. However, this doesn’t mean zoos and SeaWorld aren’t pretty tough on the human employees they hire as well. It looks mighty impressive when a svelte swimmer can put on a spectacular performance with a giant sea creature, but things fall apart quickly when that swimmer, well, falls apart. The full story in this photo isn’t 100% clear, yet it isn’t hard to guess basically what happened. The trainer was attempting to stand on the whale’s head and get lifted out of the water, only to instead fall off in particularly silly fashion. As far as we know, the audience had a laugh, then the whale and the trainer redid their trick to an even louder applause. Even so, this photo shows how easy it is for things to go wrong when trying to deal with killer whales in an entertainment environment.
13. Animals Fight One Another And Can’t Escape
Without any further information, it may be a little hard to see what’s so wrong with the above picture. The red circle highlights several prominent marks marine biologists call “rake,” meaning biting and/or scratch marks left by other animals trying to attack this whale. Veterinarians researching this creature can’t be entirely sure which other animals at SeaWorld were biting it, yet the problem is clear—animals fight one another in captivity and can’t run away from predators, leaving them open prey unless trainers step in. Obviously, trainers don’t always step in. According to certain trainers, SeaWorld’s star whale, Tilikum, occasionally had such severe rake marks from other animals that there would be trails of blood behind him as he swam, forcing the establishment to keep him out of shows until the scratches healed. The world may have never needed a Blackfish had a single bloody performance taken place.
12. Elephants Never Forget
This list has largely focused on zoos and SeaWorld thus far, meaning we haven’t even mentioned a third industry that treats animals in shockingly horrific ways: the circus. Hey, we enjoy a juggling clown as much as the next fellow, and there’s nothing wrong with brilliant, acrobatic trapeze artists. Things get a little sketchier when animals start getting involved in the tricks, though, with elephants, in particular, forced to do outrageously painful acts all for minor applause. For example, whenever an elephant stands on its head, it’s also crushing its own neck, and bull hooks are usually involved in “teaching” the animal how to perform such a feat. In all fairness, it isn’t clear if the “trainers” in the above picture are, in fact, conditioning an elephant to perform a trick or are simply holding it in heavily restrained captivity, but either way, anyone looking at it knows the elephant doesn’t appreciate what’s happening to it.
11. Giraffe: It’s What’s For Dinner
Ultimately, the primary reason zoos and similar establishments treat their inhabitants so poorly comes down to the fact they aren’t actual wildlife refugees. Zoos, SeaWorld, and the like are businesses, using animals to make the most money possible. For this reason, when two giraffes at the Copenhagen Zoo produced a baby giraffe named Marius, the fact the organization had no place for him meant a senseless death at the age of 2. Because zoo officials decided Marius wasn’t “fit for breeding,” already having several genetically similar giraffes fulfilling that role, they decided to instead slaughter the poor creature, chop him into bits, and feed his remains to other animals at the zoo. Above, lions are pictured eating Marius’ carcass. To ensure they achieved the greatest profits possible through the affair, the zoo also allowed audiences to watch as they dissected Marius. Worst of all, several other zoos offered to let the giraffe live inside their walls, only for these offers to be denied so he could be turned into food.
10. Dolphin Bites Girl
Alright, so some of the blame for this one goes on the SeaWorld attendee who definitely got closer to the animals than people are supposed to be allowed. That said, the fact a so-called friendly dolphin would rush up to the nearest human it sees and try to bite her hand off is not a good sign. Believe it or not, this isn’t to say we’re placing blame on the dolphin. Sure, it would be great if the animal’s trainer could’ve taught it behavior like this was inappropriate, but wouldn’t it be even better if, say, that dolphin lived its life normally in the actual sea, far away from humans it assumed were predators? Amazingly, this is hardly the only incident of a dolphin biting a human at SeaWorld, though usually, it happens near the area staff questionably allow the public to feed them without properly educating them on how to do so safely.
9. Lions, Tigers, and Bears Don’t Need An Owner
For all the public complaints levied against SeaWorld in the media today, one thing that can be said about the organization is that there are hundreds of people involved, and some of them might actually care about the animals they work with. There’s a much larger issue in zoos throughout the world, some of which are owned privately by much smaller groups, sometimes as little as one single person. This was the case in Armenia’s Gyumri Zoo, and when the owner found himself too sick to care for his three lions, two bears, and two guinea pigs, they all ended up looking like the above miserable bear. Multiple online petitions and publications referred to Gyumri as “the world’s saddest zoo,” and it’s hard to disagree, looking at a picture like this and knowing the animals were starving, more or less left alone in their cages to die. Thankfully, animal sanctuaries have since stepped in and rescued all inhabitants.
8. Animals Are Not Entertainment
Quite frankly, the four protesters in this photo say it all, and there’s not a whole lot for us to add on the subject. Of course, the fact they somehow snuck this banner into an actual SeaWorld and managed to parade it around during a live event means they deserve some attention, so we’ll do our best to give it to them. The message they’re presenting couldn’t be more simple nor pointed, and yet we have to imagine the head honchos at SeaWorld weren’t especially moved by it. Still, photographs can only tell us so much, but it’s interesting that no one in the audience seems to be reacting to the sign, simply remaining in their seats and treating it like part of the show. SeaWorld must be used to antics like this by now, casting aside similar protests as “PETA publicity stunts” and simply having the complainants arrested for trespassing rather than ever consider what they’re trying to say.
7. This Baboon Met A Ghastly Fate
It’s hard enough to run a zoo safely in ideal conditions, so attempting to do so in a never-ending war zone is virtually impossible. As if that weren’t obvious, to begin with, owners of the Khan Younis zoo located in the middle of the Gaza Strip experienced a personal lesson in the fact not once, but twice, throughout the establishment’s operation. The first time came a mere year after the zoo was opened when escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions prevented employees from getting to work, causing several animals to die of thirst or starvation. The same thing happened again in 2014, this time for a much longer period, resulting in the deaths of dozens of lions, crocodiles, and various primates, including the above ghost-like baboon. Most animals were found in similar states when the zookeepers could finally get to them. In this case, the blame for mistreatment can’t be placed on any one individual but rather the nature of zoos in general. Had these animals been in the wild, a human war wouldn’t have stopped them from getting fed and living normally, just another reason holding them in captivity is a bad idea in general.
6. Fish Shouldn’t Need Dentists
Forget about the display of nature that is one giant fish eating another smaller fish featured in this photograph; the real focus is on the whale’s teeth. Rather, perhaps we should say, the whale’s lack of certain teeth in the front of its lower jaw and then the massive cavities seen on all teeth further back in its mouth. It would be one thing if this was a natural occurrence with whales, but researchers claim this sort of damage is never seen in animals in the wild. In fact, vets believe this whale’s teeth are in such horrible condition primarily because it regularly tried biting the gates that confined it or even the walls of the tank itself. Because these cavities could cause infections that would then kill the whales, SeaWorld needs to clean them on a daily basis. This is obviously done without anesthesia, which is relevant in that experts imagine such a practice would be horribly painful to the whales.
5. No Food, No Water, No Chance
It’s bad enough that the horrible conditions certain zoos force upon their animals cause them to painfully suffer and eventually die. If nothing else, these establishments should then give the animals some sort of burial or at least hastily remove their bodies from the cages after they pass on. According to the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, far too many zoos ignore this basic decency. One organization, in particular, the Tweddle Farm Zoo, left a wallaby carcass rotting in a cage for two full weeks after it ceased to be. Once the corpse was finally removed, the zoo outright refused animal rights activists demands that they run a post-mortem test and discover the cause of death. This naturally made things look much worse for the zoo, as it almost implied they might have been involved with why the wallaby died in the first place.
4. This Whale’s Dorsal Fin Is As Depressed As It Is
Chances are, to anyone who has visited SeaWorld in person or even seen videos of the establishment yet has never actually seen a normal whale in its natural environment, it looks like there’s nothing wrong with this picture. There’s nothing wrong with that being the case, though it leaves out the crucial detail that the vast majority of whales in nature have perfectly rigid, straight dorsal fins, while the one of the creature in this snapshot is heavily curved. Pictures of the infamous whale, Tilikum, reveal his fin is almost circular. This only happens when a whale is unable to swim at normal speeds, a consequence of being kept in extremely small tanks and used solely to entertain people in tiny pools. Virtually every whale at SeaWorld suffers this problem, whereas it almost never occurs in the wild. Granted, a collapsed dorsal fin doesn’t seem to impede whales’ lives in any significant way; however, it nonetheless shows the effects of human interference on these animals.
3. Locked Up In Chains
Look, we understand that people like feeding animals. In some cases, there’s nothing wrong with it, like giving your dog or cat a treat. Even feeding a goat, llama, or some other farm animal probably isn’t that harmful an idea. That said, when allowing regular people to feed an animal requires tying down said creature with five or more ropes, the situation is heading toward torturous territory. There’s no way any zoo could argue this giraffe is happy to be interacting with an appreciative public, and we doubt it’s going to enjoy the carrot all that much, either. The thing probably can’t even stand up, forced into an uncomfortable sitting position all so people can wave unwanted food in front of its mouth. The saddest part is that the zoo in question won’t even feel shame at this picture being public. If anything, they may appreciate the free advertising their “feed the giraffe” exhibit is getting.
2. How An Aquarium Makes A Star
At this point in history, most of the orca whales at SeaWorld and indeed most zoo creatures, in general, are bred specifically for the purpose of being show animals. Many animal lovers see this as a problem in and of itself, yet it hardly begins to describe the terror suffered by the original whales utilized by the organization. Back in 1970, a team of whale hunters captured seven orcas for SeaWorld and the Miami Seaquarium, only one of which survives today. That creature happens to be Lolita, pictured above, still living in the Miami Seaquarium after some 40 years. The fact captors completely covered Lolita in the netting used to steal her away from the natural habitat she would never see again speaks for itself and truly says it all. Lolita and other whales like her didn’t, in any way, wish to be involved in the entertainment business, if one could even call it that. They were forced, taken, and used for humans to laugh at, with no regard for their own safety or well-being.
1. This Lion Can’t Even See How Awful Its Life Is
Mere images of these animals in captivity don’t begin to show the horror some of them face behind the scenes when the zoos, SeaWorld, or circuses are closed and they get left alone with angry and uncaring owners. This lion’s plight is far worse than simply living in captivity and performing a job it has no interest in doing, as it somehow also lost an eye from repeat abuse at the hands of its former owner. Prior to being rescued by Animal Defenders International, this lion belonged to a traveling circus based in Chiclayo, Peru and likely lost its eye while being beaten after failing to perform a trick properly. Some call the lion the “King of the Jungle,” yet dragged into the human world, the creature became a weak, helpless victim, in desperate need of salvation by animal activists.
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