Boxing Day was the premiere of Jurassic World on ITV, but the film was about more than dinosaur fun – it showed the real problem behind exploiting animals for profit.
Jurassic World treated its creatures better than it did its human characters who were left with the most banal personalities. However, the lives of the animals were explored well, and the result was a stunning testament to just how bad zoos are. It’s a controversial topic that Jurassic World could delve into, as it was sci-fi no jobs were at risk and it wasn’t as though someone with dinosaurs was going to pop up and claim they really did love their animals. Yet, the film made painfully clear just how outdated zoos are, and how completely unfit for purpose they are.
The anti-zoo take could be interpreted from the very beginning of the film, from the fact monstrous animals were allowed to escape, the frustration that raptors weren’t allowed to really hunt and were living a pathetic life that lacked any stimulation to the sickeningly cold approach to the creatures, all so middle class people could take their kids to go pet a baby dinosaur. It was nauseating to see dinosaurs be treated like that for profit, and horrifying to watch a blood thirsty dinosaur escape – and yet, so much of this behaviour is mirrored in every day zoos. Sure, Jurassic World ramped it up and a dinosaur isn’t exactly the same as a lynx but animals do matter and we can’t keep treating them as though they exist for our pleasure.
In recent years, since the release of the documentary, Blackfish, there has been a real backlash against aquariums and SeaWorld has struggled to be able to get people to visit. Blackfish revealed the trauma orcas endure in captivity, one of the main reasons of which is because a tiny tank isn’t comparable to life at sea. Orcas become depressed and frustrated at their confinement, and one orca in particular became so dangerous he was responsible for the deaths of several people. Yet, bizarrely, this new disapproval of aquariums has not translated into stronger condemnations of zoos and yet the only real difference is that one is water based. They are both founded upon exactly the same principles of captivity for profit. There is no difference except for the type of creatures held.
“Aquariums and zoos are both founded upon exactly the same principles of captivity for profit”
Elephants are used to roaming absolutely vast scales of land. They’re known as one of Africa’s greatest migrants and yet in zoos they get small enclosures, which can’t possibly compete with the scale of land they’d explore if they were free. It is the same as Tilikum the orca being placed in the tank for the majority of his life. Not only that, but land animals are also put in conditions that they aren’t evolved to cope with. One elephant is living a pitiful existence in Canada, facing the battle of snow daily. Elephants reside in some of the hottest countries on earth, They have no fur. They have no defence against the cold. It is an appalling abuse of animal rights that an elephant should be forced to endure such a climate.
Zoos also deeply impact mental health. While it’s true that animals in the wild face huge stresses, it is due to their freedom whereas every stress at a zoo is human inflicted and something we don’t have a right to do. It’s so bad that animals have been put on anti-depressants to try to cope with life in captivity. There has also been documentation of animals in captivity self-harming, as a result of social isolation and a lack of freedom.
The idea of a mega dinosaur running around and causing chaos wasn’t exactly original either. Runaway animals are actually relatively common. It’s something that happens time and again, each year. Sometimes this results in a plan to round up animals but other times this can lead to animals being killed for safety fears. But why is that acceptable? The animals never wanted to live in zoos and it’s because of human interference and then negligence that they escaped in the first place.
All of this happens with a veneer of insincerity. We’re placated with the idea that zoos do great conservation work, but the fact is that zoos breed animals often genetically weaker and very few ever are released into the wild because they’re just not equipped to cope. What zoos are doing is breeding animals for stock, so they have something to display to the public. Breeding programs are often the stock rooms of zoos. Much of this ‘stock’ is also destroyed as ‘surplus’. That’s how the animals are logged – as surplus. Their lives are treated as commodities and thousands of zoo animals in Europe are killed every year for being seen as excess. Additionally, different regulations across the globe means the standard of care in zoos massively ranges. Some are abysmal – think of the Cumbria zoo, South Lakes Safari, where 500 animals died. When the lives of animals are at stake, when iron cast guarantees of a minimum standard of care can’t be given then zoos have no place to operate. There has to at least be a responsibility of basic care, even those who support zoos must surely believe in that.
There’s no doubt that keepers surely love the animals, but that’s exactly what workers past and present at SeaWorld have said. It’s not about individual relationships but a system that inherently exploits and abuses animals for our own entertainment.
Jurassic World could be criticised for a lot of reasons, but on its examination on life in captivity it was one of the most accurate representations ever given. If we take anything away from the film, it should be to not waste our money on zoos to feed an inherently exploitative system. We have beautiful wildlife all around us, we can invest in that instead.