On a recent visit to Louisiana State University (LSU), I was shocked to find a small enclosure right outside the track stadium containing a Bengal tiger named Mike, the school’s mascot. I saw the tiger lying by a fake pond and commented on how depressing the whole scene was. A nearby woman argued that any tiger would “love” to live at LSU where they spend millions of dollars on him instead of being hunted in other countries.
But the reasoning didn’t make sense. Why spend millions to cage up one tiger when the money could instead be spent towards conservation of thousands in their natural home?
Unfortunately, humans exploit wild animals in the name of protection, education and entertainment, often for money. LSU uses its tiger as a fan attraction, parading him around in rowdy football games in a small cage, often with cheerleaders dancing atop.
As gladiator-esque as the 80-year long tradition sounds, many wild animals in captivity are subject to even worse conditions. Circuses are promoted as fun family affairs, yet the animals performing such unnatural tricks are chained up or in cages for most of their lives. The Animal Welfare Act, the only law regulating circuses, allows trainers to use bullhooks and electrical shock prods, sets minimal standards for the animals’ living conditions and is inconsistently enforced.
The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” ignited fierce backlash against Seaworld as it exposed the trauma orcas face as they’re forced to perform routines, confined and separated from their offspring. Fortunately, the documentary had a positive effect as Seaworld’s stock price, revenue and attendance dropped significantly. An interim study is currently being held for a bill for California to ban orca shows and require SeaWorld to return orcas to the wild or sea pens.
However, this is not to say that all animals in captivity are subject to cruel treatment. Some establishments cultivate habitats and programs specifically designed for the needs of endangered species. In isolated environments these animals are protected from poachers, habitat loss, starvation and predators. The purpose of these programs is not only to solidify the dwindling populations of certain species but eventually reintroduce these captive raised animals to their natural habitat.
These programs foster results that extend for generations and generations of these species. In not only nurturing a species in an enclosed area, scientists can develop studies with vital information explaining the species’ drop in population or even how to avoid the extinction of the species as a whole.
While it isn’t “educational” or “entertaining” to see wild animals subjected to unnatural and inhabitable conditions when there are technology and resources to view them undisturbed in nature, captivity can provide an effective solution for certain diminishing populations of animals.
It is up to the people to determine what is in the best interest of animals, and as Mike the tiger inspired me to raise awareness, use your power to be the voice and advocate for all wildlife.