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Training dangerous animals

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Aram, 25 Feb 2010.

  1. Aram

    Aram Member

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    I just read the horrible story of the Seaworld employee, Dawn Brancheau, who drowned after being dragged under water by a killerwhale at SeaWorld - Orlando, Florida.
    SeaWorld trainer died from traumatic injuries, drowning, autopsy shows - CNN.com

    While this is a very tragic event, and I sympathise with her loved ones and coleagues, I can't help but feel torn between the thought that, thats the risk you run when you work with training dangerous animals, and perhaps, I am shamed to say, maybe this will shine some focus on wether keeping animals and training them to do shows like these, is morally defendable.

    I can understand training dolphins, because to my knowledge, playfullness is in the dolphins natural behaviour.
    Killer whales on the other hand, is more borderline to me, as they are predators, who at best, are known to play with their food before eating it.

    Anyone out there, who can shed some light on the training of dolphins and killerwhales, or similar situations? Help me understand or make up my mind, maybe change it, concerning the training of captive, dangerous creatures?
     
  2. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    I am sure this is a debate that will go on forever (I don't mean here on ZooChat, I mean there will always be people in the world who think it is right and who think it is wrong). As for killer whales in particular, I do not think they should be held in captivity. Not because they are too dangerous, but because I don't think anyone can build a tank big enough to really meet their needs. (Theoretically it could be done, but not practically for a reasonable amount of money).

    As for land predators, such as big cats and bears, I have no problem with it and I think it can be done in a relatively safe manner. Relative is the key word. Sure there have been accidents, but every day there are automobile accidents and yet no one wants to ban cars. Everyone points to the incident with Roy Horn (of Siegfried and Roy), but he was only attacked because he tripped and fell on stage. If he had not, they would still be doing their show. They had been doing it every day for something like 20 years, so if an attack was inevitable (as opponents claim), it would have happened long before.
     
  3. Meaghan Edwards

    Meaghan Edwards Well-Known Member

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    I'm also thinking that perhaps orcas shouldn't be kept in captivity (at least not in amusement park establishments) aside from rehabing injured, orphaned or sick individuals. I strongly believe after the first incident, some sort of protective contact should have been put together.
     
  4. seeFLzoos

    seeFLzoos New Member

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    In response to the first post about training dolphins vs. orcas I don't think you can say yes to one and no to the other. Dolphins having a "bad" day could do harm to their trainers just the same as a whale. The biggest difference is size. Either way when you enter the water, they have the advantage.

    Having said that, I am not posting to debate whether animals should be in captivity or not. I have found that people have made up their mind one way or the other and there is very little changing it. Hopefully I may shed a little light on the subject. I am a former elephant trainer, so I am familiar with working with intelligent mega-animals.

    Most seasoned zookeepers, aquarists, and trainers come to respect the power of the animals they work with, but all animals are unpredictable. There are things that the animals are in tune to that we will never know (breeding, sounds, etc). There are protocols to help ensure the safety of guests and staff, but accidents happen. Some accidents may be avoidable, but others are not.

    Having seen the show at Sea World I know it is not their practice to be in the water with this particular orca. I am confident that each of those trainers know his history and keep it in the back of their mind when they are close to him. I am not trying to suggest that this trainer did anything wrong, on the contrary I am confident that she was not being careless around him. Unfortunately, her death most likely is proof that animals are unpredictable.

    Sea World has currently suspended all their orca shows. They will go through each protocol with a fine tooth comb and modify what they need to for the future.
     
  5. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    Bottlenose dolphins are also predators. They also regularily kill fish as food, porpoises as competitors and fight with conspecifics. Dogs also, left to their own, too.

    People who work with animals do it voluntarily and enjoy it. Trainers understand that whales, elephants or dogs are dangerous.

    And trainers themselves would be very unhappy if somebody from outside imposed his views what they should do.

    And - sorry - if you want safe contact with animals, you can work with sheep and rabbits. Nobody forces you to train dangerous animals, or go white-water rafting instead of sitting in a bathtub. There is a lot of things where danger is inherent element of the appeal.
     
  6. Aram

    Aram Member

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    While I can't help but feel a bit of hostility towards what you see as my opinion on contact with dangerous animals, I'll choose to ignore that, and address the fact that you seem to miss interpret my point of view completely.

    I am in no way against using training as a form of activation or enrichment for captive animals. I see it as a wonderfull way for keepers to create happenings in the everyday boredom that most species would face in captivity, despite the advances in designing enclosures.
    My comment about the inevitability of something like the incident at SeaWorld happening was intended as an observation, that this IS the risk you run when doing such work, and the public should know that, even if they mostly seem not to. I never said, and hopefully never implied that there was anything wrong with taking that risk, as long as it is for the right cause.
    This brings me close to the whole area of ethics and where to draw the line between enrichment, activation and training animals as publicity, which I think is a much larger topic than wether it is OK to risk injury and death to train or otherwise activate an animal of any kind.

    I have for many years wished to involve myself in the training of animals, both tame, and 'wild' (note, not wild in the woods, but wild in a zoo, meaning you cant just go into the enclosure and pet the creature).
    Let me try to make my request clear once more, in the light of what I just stated. I am looking for opinions on wether Killer Whales benefit from these shows and the training they receive.
    I am also looking into the training of dolphins, since there's a lot of corruption in the 'business' surrounding dolphins in captivity.
    Stories of Dolphins receiving medication to treat ulsers that are believed to be due to stress from overtraining come to mind.

    Also, thank you to the other posters for your replies, they've been helpfull so far, especially shedding some light on the volume of a basin needed for Orca Whales. As I understand it, this also holds true for Dolphins. Are there any ways to compensate for this confinement, apart from training, or play sessions?
     
  7. Rookeyper

    Rookeyper Well-Known Member

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    Most zoo professionals are keenly aware of the dangers inherent in their jobs, whether we are training an animal, cleaning an enclosure, or delivering food. It isn't only the large predators that can inflict wounds that have the potential to cause a loss of life. Many bites or scratches can become easily become infected--a bite from a penguin hurts a lot and quite often contains many nasty bugs. We preach safety during training sessions, use protected contact with the really big guys, and have a gazillion protocols intended to protect us from harm. All it takes, however, is a tiny distraction or the slightest variance from a protocol. Many trainers have the mistaken belief that they have a special bond with "their" animal and that the creature would never hurt them. I can't think of any keepers I know that don't have scars from an animal. Children often ask "will the ______ bite?". My reply is always that if it has a mouth it can bite. If it has claws it can scratch. Tragic accidents such as the one at Sea World can be prevented but will continue to happen. Trainers know the risks.
     
  8. Ann Littlewood

    Ann Littlewood Well-Known Member

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    This is a general observation, not connected specifically to marine mammals in captivity or this particular tragedy. Humans have gotten wonderfully better at training animals than they ever have been, in about the last 20 years, and training has replaced a lot of rough handling. I understand that accredited US zoos are required to train their animals in "husbandry behaviors" and at least some of them make quite a point that this training is not for entertainment. Safety for the trainer is of course paramount, but the training can create safety for the animal. Having them trained to present body parts calmly, for example, can mean that a squeeze chute or rope is not at all necessary--there's no "cowboying" around with risk to a panicky animal. So yes, the animals can benefit from training.
     
  9. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    @ Ann Littlewood - excellent observation!
     
  10. Bubbles

    Bubbles Well-Known Member

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    Ok, I'll try. I don't think there is any scientific or educational value in keeping dolphins in captivity. If you train a killer whale or dolphin, someone, somewhere, would have had to catch it first. Those who go to watch a dolphin or Killer Whale show can be blissfully unaware of the 'process' it takes to get the dolphin or killer whale to the pool in the first place...

    Dolphins in the wild live in groups (pods) and are very sociable, hence the reason they interact well ..even with us. If they didn't look as cute, or appear to be smiling all the time, if they were nasty, snarling creatures would we want to go and see them doing dolphin shows? I think not. It's the way that a dolphin 'looks' and behaves that makes us like them, and the same applies to killer whales. It's not their fault they look cute.

    Keeping dolphins in captivity is like keeping any animal in an enclosed space, but the difference into what is deemed acceptable can be vastly different to the ideal.

    Well, being that they're enclosed in a tank, probably yes, as it will no doubt relieve the boredom and they'll get fed. I can't think of any other reason.