We Are Captives

Looking around the web you can see many things that would astound and amuse you,  Lately I've noticed a trend of people performing for animals in zoos or aquariums.  There was quite a nice video recently of a young woman dancing in front of a dolphin tank where a large dolphin seems to be taking notice of the woman's motions and even bobbing its head in motion in time to her movements.  There are others of human babies reaching out to gorilla mothers who seem to want to cuddle or carry the young ones away.  There is even one troubling video where a lioness appears to be mauling the image of a young child in the glass of her enclosure and the toddler is laughing and clapping.   

Modern life affords the illusion of intimacy with animals.  Our old stories surround us now on television and where once the folk tales were told in the context of hunting cultures, or at least pastoral killing cultures where we understood animals as givers of sustenance to humans,  Now we are more likely to see animals  as spokespeople for human values.  Bears speak to protect our forest and fish,  they don't kill fish or deer themselves.   Arctic bears speak for the other creatures of the arctic for their safety and protection.  They wouldn't kill a baby seal or a whale!   The creatures of the earth are the good guys standing against the bad oil companies and the chemical companies, and all the nameless others... the badies....

I suppose that the reality is, is that we are all animals. and of course animals... are just animals.  As animals we all eat and procreate, and kill as we will, some like the dolphin and the ape,  we have trained to understand rudiments of human language.  But to my knowledge no human being nor any combination of computer and human has ever mastered the communication methods of any other species.  We have never been able to share consciousness with another creature,   as close as we feel we have come with our pets and our companion animals, what we really experience is training, projection, affection, and yes, animal affection and trust for sure... but genuine, letter writing, literate communication, as of yet ... no.  

Even without the bullet proof glass between us the barrier between us and the polar bear is thick. I found this photo on the internet the other day and for some reason I was struck numb by it:  A little boy dressed, at least the caption said, "like a Polar Bear"  pointing at a polar bear in a tank in an enclosure..     My impression right off the bat was first...  The Bear doesn't look like a Polar bear to me... But it well could be... but it looks much more like a Brown Bear.  A Polar Bear's head doesn't seem to have that shape... but who am I to argue with the internet.  Also the color.  Under the water he looks kind of white I guess, and the angle could be a bit off  and the person taking the photo should probably know, assuming there was a handy sign.  And far be it from me to criticize a tykes costume but that is looking a lot like a Rat costume to me.

But let's take it at face value that this is a photo of it a human mammal boy pretending to be a polar bear staring at a young bear believing itself to be a Polar Bear,  In a philosophical sense neither of them are.... how to put this... self actualized... but perhaps there is a solution. .  The the little human mammal, well he's a long way off obviously.... clearly not a bear: small, terrible fur, standing on two legs for far too long.  Way too skinny.  Probably lost his blood lust to kill seal pups. This little mammal has been in captivity far too long.   

The other also... he /she:  bad fur,  two thin, probably lost his/her blood lust for baby seal pups and his/her hunting instinct.. Flabby.  Bored.  The enclosure is too small.  The world has shrunken down much too much.  Many would say, it is not a polar bear any more.  Not Nanook at all.  A ghost creature now.  Something else.  

What do you think the boy is saying to the bear?  I don't know.  But, if I were a boy in a bear suit this is what I would say to a Polar Bear: 

 "Get out now, leave, before your transformation becomes  as complete as mine.  I am only six and I am walking in a ghost world, my food is tasteless  and I have no idea where it comes from.  I want to kill a seal but my parents won't hear of it.  I want to taste fresh blood but my sister says Ick.

I come here every week and I look for cracks in the glass or a hole in the enclosure. I either want  to get in with you or for you to get out.  My parents say it would end badly either way,  you would be killed if you got out, or you would eat me if I got in.  

I tell them, I think we could work out something better.  I tell them I bet I can work something out before they work out this whole thing where the earth is warming and you are going to be left swimming around in the arctic ocean or in this stupid zoo.  I say we can work out something way better than that. 

My father wants to take my Polar Bear suit away, my mother says I will grow out of it.  I say no one is going to do anything about it so it doesn't matter anyway.  I'll be back next week.  I'll bring a hammer."


Loney on the ice

the Polar Bear has nowhere

to jump, anyway. 

jhs--- Sitka, AK 


Now let me put down a big fat and probably contradictory and  unpopular caveat here. I'm not ethically opposed to most zoos.  I think they serve a valuable educational and environmental service.  In some cases they rescue animals that would otherwise be destroyed or die in the wild and use them to educate lots of people to the reasons they were orphaned in the first place: deforestation, habitat encroachment, ect..  But a zoo does not solve the problem of habitat encroachment.   And the animal in a zoo is not the same animal that was in the wild.  Killer whales I'm convinced are not meant for enclosures that I have seen built for them.  I don't think Brown Bears are real Brown Bears in captivity but they are some other kind of happy, lazy creature as long as they are fed and amused, and I don't begrudge them that, particularly if the choice was to kill them or let them die.   Nor do I begrudge their keepers, nor the programs that use them for education programs.