This summer, as you vacation or take weekend trips, please stay away from roadside animal attractions, zoos, and aquatic attractions like SeaWorld.
These “abusement parks” imprison wild animals, usually so a few people can make a profit.
I think when people go to these attractions, they want to learn about wildlife and connect with the natural world. But, what are you actually learning about the behavior of cheetahs or zebras when viewing them in enclosures? Only how they behave in confinement. In the wild, these animals would have huge ranges (a cheetah, for example, can have a range of up to 540 square miles). They would also get to hunt, forage, and interact with their own kind. Confining wild animals as spectacles is both cruel and unnatural. Zoos may have a better standard of living for animals, but these creatures are being unnecessarily confined for entertainment purposes. Zoos often have one or two wildlife rehabilitation programs. However, these are fig leaves for facilities that, by and large, contain animals that are not there for any reason besides generating revenue.
In Oregon we have many opportunities to experience wildlife in more positive ways. Wildlife Images, in Grants Pass, rehabilitates a variety of large animals. The Raptor Center in Eugene rescues birds of prey and allows people to see them up-close. And webcams at numerous animal sanctuaries throughout the U.S. and world allow us to see wild animals without interfering with their behavior.
Perhaps the best way to experience wild animals is to see them in the wild. Though it takes more time, sightings of bear, bobcat, elk, and other animals are earned through patience and respect. This is how our interaction with wildlife should be: privileged glimpses as guests on their territory, rather than imprisoning them on ours.
Martha E. Gregor