My wings spread wide, a warm wind pushes me silently through the sky, I soar proudly. Nose-diving towards the trees I slice through the air a rush of excitement filling me. Taking a deep breath I swoop around take off back up towards towards the clouds. The slight smell of a light rain fills me, my quest to find food will be plentiful tonight. I squawk loudly in ecstasy, my feathers ruffling happily, this is the perfect summer day. Suddenly I am awoken by a loud clang, startled my reflex to avert danger shoots me upwards towards the sky, the cuff around my leg springs me back against the cage, I’m left stunned. Without choice I slump a few steps forward and fight to slide my chain along the wire to seek out the stale bird food that was just dropped off.
It seemed more like a nightmare than the evening news, night after night the sickening reports of the Ariel Castro kidnappings dominated the radio and television stations. When my sister asked my husband and I if we wanted to spend the day at the Elmvale zoo with my nephew, I smiled at the thought of his pure, uncomplicated smile and laughter. It was time to turn off the news and try to enjoy what was turning out to be a beautiful May long weekend. Beginning to de thaw from a long, cold winter I was more than a little eager to flourish in some sun.
I was a little apprehensive, zoos not being my favorite place but I agreed to go along, after all how bad could it be their website displayed bright eyed animals in what looked like adequate accommodations. Trying to keep an open mind so not to spoil the day for my sister we entered the zoo.
First we approached the flamingo exhibit, it seemed suitable enough, the flamingo’s had space to move around and they even had a little pond. We stopped to snap a couple pictures, the sun felt so nice, my body was awakening, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad afterall. Next we moved towards the kangaroo exhibit. Kangaroos are the only large animals to use hopping as a means of travel. The comfortable hopping speed for a kangaroo is about 20–25 km/h but speeds of up to 70 km/h can be attained over short distances. Having seen Kangaroo’s in Australia firsthand in the wild, the sight upon me was shocking. They were barely recognizable, mere skin and bones huddled together, incinerating in the corner of their tiny exhibit. I turned my head away, instantly knowing I made the wrong decision coming to the zoo. Even though the sun was bright and shining a recognizable darkness of shame began to creep in.
We moved from decrepit exhibit to decrepit exhibit, passing tigers, giraffes and zebras in cages barely the size of my bedroom. The sight of a white tiger pacing his tiny cage in anxious boredom was particularly upsetting. My thoughts envisioned this mysterious, rare and gorgeous animal roaming through the Grasslands of Southeast Asia with stealth and freedom. The sad reality is that there are less than 8,000 of these animals left in the wild (down from 100,000 at the beginning of the century).
We passed bald eagles, apes and deer, all the while I was wondering to myself what sort of conservation efforts was this zoo doing? Were they contributing anything to the animal kingdom?
Next we came upon a goat exhibit, this was obviously a main attraction as I could hear screams of glee from yards away. I stood aback and viewed the scene; hyper, unsupervised children were chasing, pulling and poking the goats, even trying to pick them up. The baby goats were shaking and crying. While there was a little sign that said please don’t chase the goats, the exhibit was completely unsupervised.
I stood in shock, realizing that no one, not the parents, not the children, not even the absent zoo officials noticed or cared about the distress that these goats were under. The baby goats were trying unsuccessfully to hide under their mothers bellies, but there were too many goats fighting for protection, the unlucky ones were left at the mercy of the children. With a clenched jaw I quietly walked away, the cries following me through out the rest of the zoo.
While I understand that zoos can be involved in amazing conservation efforts, reproducing endangered species, and rescuing and saving sick animals; I do not understand how in this day and age a strictly for profit zoo or circus can be allowed to operate. The animal injustice occurring at this zoo in plain daylight and the fact that no one else seemed to notice disturbed me on a deep level.
Over the past few weeks we have heard news report after news report recounting the 3 kidnapped women in Cleveland, over the years we have also heard cases of similar nature, always leaving us in shock and disbelief. While understandably we as humans have enormous sympathy and empathy for these victims I can’t help but wonder where our shock and sympathy goes when a human victim is replaced by an animal victim.
Have we not even considered asking ourselves whether taking an innocent, wild animal from their home and family, wherever that may be, stealing their freedom and placing them in a cage, for a life sentence, for nothing other than our own amusement is morally right? Lets pretend for a minute we value all life forces on Earth, if we are honest are there not parallels (on some level) between the horrors we are inflicting on the animal kingdom and the horrors inflicted by someone such as Ariel Castro? Can you imagine if criminals had victims on display, caged and chained, charging a fee to view. How appalling is this to you? I know it fills me with sickness, and I know in the deepest part of my being that what we are doing to the animal kingdom is wrong.
If animals had a voice, lets say a human voice, do you think it would make you more unlikely to exploit and torture this animal? If you walked by a caged tiger at the zoo and it begged you to free him, would you be less likely to enjoy your zoo experience? Lets say animals could communicate with us, are you ready to hear what they would have to say? Are you ready to take responsibility for the atrocities we all have had a part in inflicting; ranging from circuses, factory farming, zoo’s and marine lands? In reality animals don’t have a voice, they are voiceless, voiceless and helpless to our every whim. But just because they can’t speak doesn’t mean they aren’t scared, don’t have desires, anxieties, instincts and the right to freedom.
“Know that the same spark of life that is within you, is within all of our animal friends, the desire to live is the same within all of us…” ― Rai Aren, Secret of the Sands
While I acknowledge that there is a chain of life, the simple fact is that we do not have the right to needlessly exploit any living being for our pure entertainment, western greed and gluttony or to test our products on. When the inevitable day comes that we face the consequence of our own actions, it is then that we will realize with furrowed regret how ignorant we have been.
While it is hard to say what exactly animals feel, I know from firsthand experience that they feel pain, anxiety, happiness and sadness. I know that they love in ways and with depth that I’m not even sure exists within myself. I continue and will continue, until there is a shift in consciousness and this madness ends; to be saddened at the exploitation of animals for human entertainment and amusement. I acknowledge that I am far from perfect or innocent, but; I am committing to permanently banning exploited animal attractions from my schedule as well as researching and educating myself on my own consumerism. I have no interest in purchasing eye makeup that caused a bunny rabbit blindness, there are alternatives, it just takes a little knowledge.
My saving sanity is that I have a strong belief in karma, and that all actions, no matter how insignificant they may seem plants seeds of effect. Often times we turn the other way, even when we feel something is wrong, we may think that because a situation isn’t effecting our lives directly it is of no consequence, we could not be further from the truth.
At some point in this life, or our next life our seeds of karma will bloom, it is inevitable. We just may be that bald eagle staring out through a square in a cage, at an endless blue sky, with no hope of ever flying.
“The only good cage is an empty cage.” ― Lawrence Anthony, The Elephant Whisperer