Captive Wildlife: Mixed Messages?

This week I accompanied a bunch of animal lovers to visit a wildlife sanctuary,—one that does rehabilitation but that also provides educational programs to the public using animals that cannot be released due to permanent injuries or habituation to humans (in some cases imprinting).

Upon entry, things looked good, the place was clean, the enclosures secure, and the volunteers were hardworking and caring people–but during the course of the afternoon I became more and more mortified.

Good grief—here they were preaching that wild animals don’t make good pets and then entering into the enclosures and acting like they were pets—colorful leashes, toys, and other trends of behavior interactions. Don’t get me wrong, enrichment and stimulation is good but it was HOW they did it.

The birds of prey were allowed to grab with their beaks and one was cuddled like a stuffed animal. A young wild canine was allowed to jump and ricochet off of the body of the “handler” an allowed to nip and grab food from her hands.

Worse were my observations of the animals getting more and more agitated while the humans didn’t really notice. About three minutes before a minor incident in the bear enclosure—which was fortunately mitigated—I could see the issue escalating again.
Then I watched as another volunteer allowed a small wild cat to escalate in his behavior to the point of biting AND actually allowing it. I saw the big bruise on her upper arm from a bite during the previous day and suspect it is only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt.

Did I mention I used to be the president and active worker at a wildlife care and rehabilitation center…what I witnessed made me cringe.

My point here is that the interactions with the animals overshadowed their message of why wildlife don’t make good pets. I was disappointed that they didn’t really talk about their rehabilitation work or what is involved in it.

Not all animal handlers and workers are versed in animal training and safety…which is why you see the news with so many captive wildlife incidents. Although I believe that creating an interest and showing that animals can amiable to humans, my concerns are over how it is done.

What do you think when you witness animal interactions?

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