The imprisonment of wild animals, no matter how obscured by false notions of education or conservation, denies them of their most basic freedoms for the purpose of casual human entertainment. Whether confined in a circus or incarcerated in a zoo, captivity routinely breaks the spirits of intelligent and strong-willed animals, leaving defeated creatures with anguished minds and empty lives. While many captive animals fall victim to severe psychological disorders, others—fed up with the cruelty of their confinement—fight back. Recurrent incidents of animals systematically revolting against their tormentors litter the history of wildlife captivity and serve as a powerful reminder of the striking intellect and determined spirits of wild animals. These tragic events epitomize the inherent risk of keeping wildlife in confinement, and reaffirm the fact that it is unjustifiable and cruel.
Tyke (pictured above), an elephant exploited by Circus International, was taken from the wild as a baby and sold to an exotic animal supplier in the United States. While being used in a performance, during which elephants are routinely forced to behave using painful bull-hooks, Tyke reached her breaking point. With unmistakable conscious deliberation, she killed her trainer—who had been previously observed publicly beating Tyke so severely that she screamed in agony and cowered to avoid being hit—and injured another circus employee. Tyke immediately escaped the arena and ran for her life, desperately trying to free herself from the life of cruelty and abuse she had endured for so long. Tragically, she was shot over 80 times until she collapsed and died in the street.
At the San Francisco Zoo, onlookers witnessed Tatiana (pictured above), a young Siberian tiger, being tormented by three inebriated individuals who taunted, yelled, and allegedly threw sticks and pinecones at her. Pushed to her limits, Tatiana escaped her enclosure by remarkably scaling a 12-foot wall, specifically seeking out the three perpetrators as she passed by and ignored other zoogoers and accessible mammal exhibits. Tatiana mauled all three individuals, killing one, before she was shot and killed by park security.
Tilikum (pictured above), an orca who spent most of his life incarcerated at marine parks, was stripped of his freedom when he was captured in Iceland and stolen from his mother at only two years old. Tilikum suffered for years in captivity, residing in a concrete tank while being forced to perform inane tricks. Years of torment at the hands of humans was too much for him to bear. Tilikum fought back, not once, but on three separate occasions—tragically killing two trainers and a SeaWorld guest. Like most captive marine mammals, Tilikum died prematurely following years of exploitation. The inability to meet the psychical and psychological needs of orcas in captivity.
These events were entirely preventable. If society fails to wake up to the obvious reality that wild animals do not belong in confinement, animals will continue to suffer for human profit and entertainment, and these tragedies will repeat themselves. If you care at all about the wellbeing of wild animals, do not patronize attractions that keep them in captivity. A seemingly harmless visit to a circus or zoo ensures that animals will continue to face lifetimes of trauma, boredom, and misery. Fortunately, there is tremendous hope for change. Businesses are increasingly changing their practices in response to the shift in public opinion about captive wildlife, and legislative efforts have the potential to bring about meaningful progress. The recently introduced Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act would amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit the use of wild animals in traveling shows. Please write your representative and urge them to support this important bill.
Photo 2: Tyler Westcott
Photo 3: Phelan M. Ebenhack