I’ve been fortunate in not encountering a lot of animal abuse within the wild animal training industry—but it does exist. Having said that, I’ve seen more in the field of dog training!
When I left the wild animal training facility in Riverside, I found myself pulled back into that world after I discussed my concerns with a former wild animal trainer in Northern California. She knew Walter Cronkite, once a major news anchorman, and we met with him. She tried to put words in my mouth that were not true but I refused to alter my story.
It seems that the ape trainers got rough with one of the orangutans on the facility—and he died from the complications caused by the injuries. They then tried to pass off another ape as the original one. Most people were not savvy enough to recognize the differences—but these animals were my pals and in a freeze frame I showed Walter Cronkite how to differentiate between them.
The trainer I went with started what is now a multi-million dollar animal welfare organization—which I could have gone to work for. I chose not to and can only say that she has some bad stuff in her past too, some which I have personal knowledge of. My point is to use caution in what you believe and how you get swayed and to realize that you can also catalyze change for the betterment of all.
We all do the best we can with the tools we have been given. I’ve watched disturbing footage of so called “trainers” beating the heck out of their charges but most of the trainers I’ve worked with don’t engage in those techniques—and if they did, most now know better but there are still bad apples out there.
I do need to say that most trainers will do whatever it takes to save a life of a human…including putting themselves in harms way and hurting or killing an animal in the process.
Today there are agencies regulating the animal acting and performing animal industries but it wasn’t always that way. My point in sharing these stories is to say that you can’t always believe what you see and hear—you have to use discernment.
The good news is that the animal career field is constantly changing and if you have an idea for an animal career—you can pursue it or create it.
When I started my career with animals there was not a profession called “animal behaviorist” nor were there courses dedicated to environmental issues or conservation. I was in some of the earliest prototypes of those courses that are now found in universities and institutions throughout the world.
If you have a passion outside of animals, find some way to tie it into animal work and you’ll have a good match. I’ve ambled through lots of animal jobs but my strength is understanding animals—the psychology and communication pieces are natural to me and so that is what I keep coming back to.
When I fell from the top of a zoo hay barn my career path shifted to that of working as an animal writer. All my passions tied together and led me to where I am now.
So, list what you love—then what you hate. Also include a list of what you are really good at and what you aren’t. Take the lists and add them to the other list of answers to the questions you were given a few days ago…because you are going to use them to discover your perfect animal career.