Their post was an indictment of both those who keep exotic animals and filmmakers and photographers whom the post says constitute a major market for these animals.
Filmmakers, Celebrities Create Market for Exotic Animals
The massacre of nearly 50 exotic animals from a game farm in Ohio is a tragic example of why wild animals (exotic or otherwise) should not be kept as pets.
To put it simply, wildlife should remain in the wild. When they are locked up in cages and forced into confinement, their suffering and stress is immense. They cannot lead healthy lives when taken from their natural habitat and placed in what’s usually a cramped and poorly maintained game farm or facility – it’s unfair, cruel and unnatural.
The owner of the massacred animals, Terry Thompson, kept all sorts of animals – bears, tigers and monkeys, among others – locked up in cages. Apart from the claustrophobic living conditions (compared to living in the wild), wild animals are sometimes purchased by naive people who severely underestimate the special needs of the animals and even mistreat them. In fact, Thompson had previously been convicted of animal cruelty and was suspected of animal neglect.
What makes this tragedy even worse is that people like Thompson are in demand by filmmakers and photographers. In many wildlife documentaries and photos, the animals featured are not as “wild” as they seem. In fact, they come from game farms (similar to Thompson’s) that house and provide wildlife on demand. Basically, creatures that were intended to roam freely can be made available to anyone with the right amount of money. For example, Thompson was hired to bring three lion cubs to a photo shoot with Heidi Klum in New York City. With transactions like that, business can be good for game farm owners.
Hopefully the event in Ohio will shed light on the horrible business of keeping wild animals in captivity for personal pleasure and for business. They should not be auctioned, rented or collected by humans. They should not be dominated, manipulated and taken advantage of. Most importantly, they should not be stripped of what they value most – to be wild and free.
By leaving wild animals in their natural habitats, tragedies like the massacre in Ohio can be prevented. For the sake of the animals and for the safety of humans, wildlife should remain as nature intended: free.
Though I wouldn't say we're drinking buddies, I know Chris Palmer and share his passion for the ethical treatment of animals. He has been most kind in providing me with advice and counsel in my filmmaking career. His book, Shooting in the Wild: An Insider's Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom, highlights some of the dilemmas filmmakers face when making films under time and budget constraints, forcing some to reproduce "in the wild" behavior using animals from wild animal farms, like the one in Ohio.
While I share the authors' concern regarding the possible mistreatment of the animals in Ohio, the state's deplorable lack of stringent animal regulations, and the possible knee-jerk reaction on the part of the Ohio police in putting the animals down, I believe that their basic premise is perhaps a bit too simplistic for what is a complex issue. I would respectfully put forward the following thoughts.
All states should have in place strict regulations regarding wild or exotic animal captivity that require suitable enclosures which provide sufficient room and pseudo-wild environments and a standard of care and feeding that ensures the animal's basic good health. Small, cramped cages or concrete cell blocks would be out of the question. This would restrict the facilities to large parks or farms and eliminate the small operators or those who would keep these animals as pets.
These facilities would need to be inspected on a regular basis and the laws strictly - and humanely - enforced. Where and how the animals were obtained would need to be carefully documented. If the state does not have the manpower or infrastructure to meet the need, then they should simply not allow any such facilities in their state, period.
So, you would be left with a small number of highly regulated facilities, expensive to maintain, and their availability to any paying market would, in turn, be an expensive proposition. To remain economically viable, some of the facilities could possibly work with other nations or conservation organizations as breeding facilities for endangered species, but that too would need to be strictly regulated and observed. The FTC could restrict the use of exotic or wild animals in films or advertising to situations which are relevant or practical to the animal and its natural lifestyle - no more ads of a cheetah or a lion cub on a New York City street to sell fashion or perfume.
For wildlife documentary filmmakers, it would be a difficult situation as they would either have to have the budget resources to afford the use of such animals or spend more time and money in the wild to capture the behavior for which they had considered duplicating with captive animals. For the small group of "A-list" film companies, that might be more feasible compared to the vast majority of smaller companies that are struggling for every dime.
The Ohio animal farm incident was extreme and tragic on several levels because, if initial reports are accurate, the facility was not suitable for the animals, the owner had a questionable and checkered history of animal cruelty, the state of Ohio did not have adequate regulations or enforcement of what few laws it did have, and the reaction of the Ohio law enforcement was excessive and showed that there were no contingencies in place to deal with a facility that they had prior knowledge of. In the end, it illustrates, at every step, the wrong way to handle wild animals in captivity.
The entire issue of keeping wild or exotic animals is a complex one; one that is so complex that it is understandable when it is suggested that it be prohibited entirely. But when Chris and Angeli say "To put it simply, wildlife should remain in the wild" without caveats or exceptions, then, as admirable as that position appears, the logical extension of it is to close all zoos, aquariums, wild animal parks and sanctuaries, endangered species breeding facilities, marine mammal rescue hospitals, and so on - just let nature take its course. I believe there can be a middle ground - highly regulated and enforced - that could provide some benefits to both animal species and our understanding and appreciation of them.
Just spitballing here, trying to find a reasonable aftermath to a tragic event.
Read Daniel de Vise's College, Inc. blog in the Washington Post.