What are the truths behind animal captivity and the exploitation of animals in the modern world?
Animal captivity has been a topic of discussion for many centuries with different views on whether or not wild animals should be kept in confinement. One of the beliefs behind the theory of the imprisonment is that we as humans need animals in captivity for our own education or in contrast, keeping animals detained is actually helping their survival. There has been many proven scientific experiments that captivity does have a bad physical and psychological effect on animals, such as zoochosis.
The taboo issue of animal captivity has been around since the beginning of civilization, dating as far back to the 1st millennium BC. The human species has always seen themselves to be inferior to animals, making them believe it is right to abuse the creatures existence.
(R.Malamud 1998, pp.67) “Throughout history, animal collecting and exhibition have embodied the cultural pretensions that provide the justification, the manifest destiny, for empire”. Many powerful emperors, rulers and royal individuals would use capturing animals as a status of defeating exotic land, showing that animal cruelty arose through greed, ego, pain and suffering of war.
The capture and presentation of wild animals can be calculated back to 1500 BC, in Queen Hatshepsut’s time, considered one of the most successful female pharaohs of Egypt. Her reign lasted over 20 years, alongside her husband Thutmose II, but after his death she took over the throne.
Hatshepsut believed in the capturing of animals and using their qualities to her advantage, she felt the animals represented the countries ability to travel over seas. She seen the animals as enterprise to commercial trade. Sending vessels to Somalia to collect valuable materials as well as many types of exotic animals, including monkeys, leopards, giraffes, cattle and several birds.
As well as using animals from far away lands as an intricate status symbol, like many other pharaohs Hatshepsut would also sacrifice certain creatures from her collection, in order of her mummification beliefs.
Moving on in centuries, another ancient ancestor obsessed with the idea of capturing exotic animals was Pyrrhus of Epirus. He was a Greek general and statesman of the Hellenistic era, he lead the war against the Romans in 281 BC.
His collection of animals was also created from the intentions of war, he transported 20 elephants by ship to Italy to fight alongside him in the Battle of Heraclea. Once again animals has been manipulated by the human species, for our own selfish needs.
(R.Malamud 1998, pp.59) “For centuries, the appropriation of animals from non-western locales into western captivity has played an integral part in the imperial enterprise; the great animal ‘collectors’ were the great imperialist” Malamud points out how animal captivity has always been linked to imperialism and war, how ego took over our ability to take care of our neighbourly species. Our structure of consciousness has been drowned by animate objects such as wealth, conquest and the ability to rule.
The year of 27 BC was the beginning of the Roman Empire, a famous achievement of the Romans was the building of the Colosseum. One of the main attractions at the Colosseum displays were exotic animals. The novelty of showing animals excited the Romans, they also felt it excelled power in their world. The transportation of these animals was also under the connotations of conquered lands.
They had a massive selection of animals, from boars to giraffes, shipped to their land to be captured and slaughtered in a vicious show of Roman duelling.
A typical game would last 100 hundred days and in this time 9000 wild animals would be killed in a selfish slaughter, in fact that many wild animals were killed some species became virtually extinct.
(R.Malamud 1998. pp.65) “Human beings presumably benefit from treating animals the way they do – hurting them, jailing them, exploiting their labor, eating their bodies, gaping at them, and even owning them as signs of social status”. Malamud reiterates the social status between species, how man has always been inferior to animals and still is to this day. Although some animal species may be stronger than man, man is still more powerful in the over all circle of life.
Capturing and owning a large collection of animals was slowly but surely spreading across all areas of the world, eventually making its way to Britain. Menageries became very popular allover Europe and especially in Britain. A menagerie is a term used for keeping animals in captivity, typically owned and created by the rich which lead us onto the beginning of Aristocratic menageries. Many aristocrats and persons of the royal court would own menageries close to their palace in a way of illustrating their power. Neither of their intentions of keeping the animals were for educational or scientific use, simply for display of wealth.
In the middle ages many rulers now owned menageries for their own pleasure, the most famous animal menagerie of this time was the London Tower menagerie. It was first established by King John, over time its legacy was carried out by many kings, all being gifted with exotic animals from foreign rulers. The Tower menagerie in London was open for as long as six centuries in England, being opened to the public in the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th century. Here you would see the beginning of the Zoo.
Travelling menageries were the beginning of the circus we know today, they first appeared in England in 1700. These collections of animals were in fact run by showmen, rather than the aristocrats of England, there were also mobile. The size and range of the animal collections differed over the years, making each menagerie unique to the next.
The 1950s was the birth and rise of ‘The British Circus’, many of the same animals being captured as trophies were then being sold on when no longer needed to performing companies. In this era the circus was a wealthy booming business, at its peak the famous Billy Smart’s circus toured with 200 animals, including elephants, lions, horses, polar bears, camels, sea lions and chimpanzees.
The human species seem to exploit and manipulate is animals, simply for our own entertainment.
(Earl of Haddington, 1965.) ”There is one thing about performing animals which I think everyone must agree, namely, that to dress animals up and make them do these tricks and for humans to sit there and laugh at them is the most degrading spectacle. Surely, if humanity is never going to rise higher than that it is a very poor look out for the world”. The Earl of Haddington enlightens on the fact of how demoralising it is to force a beautiful exotic creature to perform in that of human clothing, it is not animalistic in any way. He points out how this reflects on us as humans and how we present ourselves as a species, if we want to rise up and better ourselves and the world, then our actions of mistreating animals has to change before we change ourselves.
Although for many years the travelling circus was an extremely popular business over time this has deteriorated, the circus today is some what completely opposite to the circus in the 1950’s.
The famous Rosaire’s circus is one of the last known family circus’s but what is different about this circus is that they only consist of rescued animals, like a sanctuary.
“Our mission has become really important over the last 20 years because of environmental issues, that are going on with animals disappearing. We are able to let people see them up close and personal, and it makes them much more willing to help them in the wild”. (Vice, 2012. The Last Real Circus Family Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F24Fu4zSTwg)
The Rosaire family argue that they are in fact saving the future of wild animals by housing them in their circus, here Kay Rosaire explains how keeping wild animals for the public to visit is actually giving the opportunity for man to form a bond with animals which will make them want to help, giving all types of species more of a chance of survival.
When addressing the problem of captivity, automatically the zoo is what springs to mind. There are over 10,000 zoo’s worldwide, with 175 million people visiting them each year. For many years the zoo has played a huge part in capturing and displaying animals for our discretion.
Although in the past, the zoo was not seen as educational, today many large popular zoo’s pride themselves on how much the public are learning from their visits to the zoo.
(D.Aspinall, 2013. Look into the eyes of a caged tiger and you will see the zombie victim of ‘zoochosis’: A passionate plea by conservationist who breeds big cats to return them to wild. [online] Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2388943/Look-eyes-caged-tiger-zombie-victim-zoochosis-A-passionate-plea-conservationist-breeds-big-cats-return-wild.html) “Nowdays, zoo’s say they are in the business of conservation. In my opinion, that’s a lie. They are in the conservation of business”. Here Damien Aspinall, owner of the Aspinall Foundation is reiterating on the fact that zoo’s are in fact feeding the uneducated public a lie. Making the people believe that what they are doing to animals is right.
The zoo is seen as a key institution for the public to come and engage with animals they would not necessarily get to see if it was not for captivity. Many zoo’s run educational visits for schools and children to learn about the wild animals being captured there, how can one learn about wild animals when they are not in their natural habitat? Surely, this is not the best way of educating the future generation on saving and preserving exotic species.
Studies found that children did not learn from observing the animals in the zoo but actually learned from the after classes and presentations presented at the zoo, therefor showing that zoo’s are not educational and in fact children could learn more from watching real life documentaries of animals in their natural habitat.
Zoo’s are actually teaching people how animals react in captivity, not in the wild. Representing an unrealistic view to the public is surely creating more harm than good and in fact teaching people how not to properly take care of animals.
Zoo’s promote that they are ‘saving’ and ‘preserving’ endangered species and that without zoo’s these animals would not be able to survive or breed in the wild. In reality the majority of the animals you seen in zoo’s are in fact not endangered or anywhere near to extinction. People are lead to believe that zoo’s are in fact saving extinct species of animals and therefor want to invest their time and money into the institutions when in reality they should be investing into reserving natural habitat.
(Dr. S.Best, 1999. Zoo and the end of nature. [online] Available at: http://www.zoocheck.com/articlepdfs/zoos%20and%20the%20end%20of%20nature.pdf) “At this late stage in the capitalist colonization of the planet, few pockets of the natural world remain, and the zoo embodies the commodification, fragmentation, and technification of living processes – biodiversity reduced to artificially sustained exhibits”. The human species have objectified animals into something interesting and beautiful to look at, in todays society little of animals natural habitat remains due to our greed and selfishness. Animals are simply seen as exhibits to look at.
Many of todays enclosures claim to be ‘of standards’ and ‘suitable’ for the animals they are containing when matter of fact, they are far from it. Why is society letting these establishments get away with low standards of animal care? Why is it over looked by the masses?
Animals are removed from their natural habitat and crammed into artificial structures that claim to be efficient and helping the animal when all they are doing is causing the creature unnecessary stress by depriving them from mental and physical stimulation.
Many wild animals are taken from their families and miles of land, thrown into a glass enclosure alone to be stared at by the passing public like a piece of artwork in a gallery.
(Dr. S.Best, 1999. Zoo and the end of nature. [online] Available at: http://www.zoocheck.com/articlepdfs/zoos%20and%20the%20end%20of%20nature.pdf) “Zoo’s are first and foremost about power relations; they are both a cause and a symptom of the human will to mastery over the natural world” Here Dr. Best is comparing the relations between humans and animals and how we are the more dominant species. This shows why zoo’s are still running today, although many experiments have in fact proven that animals do not benefit from captivity in any way. Captivity is solely manmade to benefit man and only man.
Captivity physically and mentally effects animals wellbeing, many creatures pick up stereotypic behaviours when confined to an enclosure in a zoo. What may seem normal to the public, is in fact a coping mechanism that the animal has developed in order to grasp onto the last remaining pieces of insanity it has left.
Animals can face many challenges in captivity that evolution has not prepared them for, the artificial environment can lead to many problems for the animal. Such as boredom, frustration, and being physically and mentally stressed.
Stereotypic behaviours are repetitive functionless behaviours carried out by the animal, these consist of rocking, self harming, feather/fur plucking and walking in circles. Typically, you would not see an animal carrying out these movements in the wild and in fact, harm the animal more than it seems.
Some methodologists argue that stereotypic behaviour could have been developed before the animal was brought into captivity, that the animal could of suffered an event in their infantry that has effected them in adult life. Although this is highly unlikely.
(J.Berger, 1980. pp. 29) “These animals have become prisoners of a human/social situation into which they have been press-ganged”. Berger enlightens on how animals have become prisoners and treated as though they have a reason to be punished. Due to a movement created by and enjoyed by humans.
Creative responses to the issues of animal captivity and exploitation
Photography has played a huge part in campaigning for animals wellbeing, over the years it has proved to provide a medium that captures the right imagery to portray a story to the public.
From high quality images to a a quick snap to capture the moment, photography has been used many times throughout this cause in hope that it might make a difference.
Daniel Kukla ‘Captive Landscapes’ project shows that you do not always need to see the animals in the captive environment to feel their pain, in fact their emotions and wellbeing can reflect on the surroundings once they have left it behind. The enclosure somehow mirrors what has happened in the past, a unhealthy spectacle.
He manipulates the human imagination and way of thinking to interpretate individual stories of the past, depending on the viewer.
This piece of work is made up of a collection of images taken from various enclosures in zoo’s all around the world, it reflects on the fact that animal exploitation is wide spread and not only confined to certain parts of the world. His idea of capturing the enclosure and not the animal makes his way of thinking unique and stands out from other animal documentary photography.
“We, as humans, go to great lengths to satisfy our desire for a connection with the natural world, especially in our interactions with wild and exotic animals. Zoos are the primary site for this relationship, but they often obscure the conflicts inherent in maintaining and displaying captive wild animals. In this series, I photographed the interiors of animal enclosures at 12 different zoos across the U.S and Europe. These images invite the viewer to question the role of these constructed habitats, and explore the motivations behind collecting, preserving, and controlling the natural world.” (Daniel Kukla)
Daniel explains how although zoo’s are considered an educational purpose, they do not reflect the animals environment instead they conflict with the realistic view. They are artificial and only created for our own pleasure.
Another artist trying to highlight the negative effects of captivity is Gaston Lacombe, his project ‘Captive’ captures the animals in the enclosures and manages to anthropomorphizing the creature as though it is a human being in a cell. Each image is different to the last and has its own unique story.
Unlike Daniel Kukla, his images main focus are the animals being held captive. He uses anthropomorphism to capture the animals emotions and tries to compel this onto the viewer.
Lacombe’s images do not just show run down zoo’s but he also points out that the most expensive and high profile zoo’s still have unhappy and unhealthy animals held up in enclosures that are of a minute size.
Gaston has a different outlook to Daniel Kukla, he accounts back to his many visits to zoo’s, in fact congratulates some enclosures on there efforts although he refers back to the cages being too small and not fulfilling for the animals needs. Which reiterates the fact that wild animals should not be in captivity.
“I have been gathering pictures from zoos all around for the last three years. I like most zoos — I really do. Some zoos need to be congratulated for making great efforts at conserving endangered species, providing shelter to animals who could not otherwise survive and educating the public on ecological issues.
However, even in the best zoos, there are animals that are stuck in cement enclosures too small for their needs, or in rooms where the only vegetation they see are the plants painted on the wall. I’ve seen animals living in cages where they cannot even sit up, or have no access to daylight or clean water. At these moments, I feel guilty for supporting a system that treats animals cruelly, and at these moments, I take pictures.” (Gaston Lacombe)