The Cruelty of Confinement
King breaks up the monotony of living in a 30 by 40-foot concrete cage by banging his head repeatedly against the wall. This behavior, due to boredom, is common in caged animals, and may well lead to King’s demise. King is a 450-pound silverback gorilla who lives at the tourist attraction Monkey Jungle in Miami.
King has spent a good portion of his 28 years at Monkey Jungle. He was purchased from a circus in 1979. Four times a day, King is forced to perform for Monkey Jungle patrons who have paid to see some “wildlife.” King’s plight was brought to public attention by a British tourist who visited Monkey Jungle in 1995. Virginia Baker, who is not an animal rights activist, and doesn’t even have any pets, became alarmed by the horrible conditions King was living in. A chain of events ensued when Baker contacted a zoologist, who then brought in various animal rights groups. The International Primate Protection League, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society, and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida stepped in. Noted primate expert Jane Goodall even made a plea on King’s behalf.
Zoo Atlanta offered to accept King into their gorilla facility. This would allow King to be integrated into a natural habitat, and even socialize with other gorillas. Zoo Atlanta has had success with other gorillas coming from similar situations, and feels that King could thrive in their program.
The owners of Monkey Jungle, the DuMond family, had originally stated that they felt King was well cared for, and that he could not live with other gorillas. The circus that had previously owned him had pulled his teeth, and Monkey Jungle felt this would not allow him to socialize with other gorillas. When the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida went to Monkey Jungle with 6,000 signatures, all wanting King’s release to Zoo Atlanta, they were greeted by the owners, who now acknowledge King’s living environment is substandard. The DuMond family would still not send King to a better life at Zoo Atlanta. They decided they would like a natural environment type of facility to be built for King, but they would like the public to pay for it. The DuMonds also stated they would like Zoo Atlanta to donate a female gorilla as a companion for King. The DuMond family is asking the public to contribute money to a private company, whose sole purpose is to make money from animals used for entertainment.
This kind of selfishness and double-talk is typical of what goes on in some zoos and our nation’s 1,400 roadside menageries, traveling shows, and petting zoos. Zoos would like us to believe their purpose is education and protecting endangered species. While that is true in some cases, in most, like King’s, the purpose is entertainment to create financial gain. The animals on display, and the endangered species some zoos help, tend to be those that are cute or of interest to most people, not necessarily the species that need the most aid. Most zoo facilities cannot show the way ecosystems work. Seeing animals performing or captive in unnatural settings only teaches people that animals are not worthy of fair treatment or respect. Zoos are also faced with overpopulation of the animals in their care. Not wanting to pay for another unnecessary mouth to feed, the very animals zoos say they want to protect are often sold to laboratories, circuses, other zoos, and commercial game farms, where they will be shot by hunters.
There are many examples of mistreatment by zoos. It’s not just small roadside attractions that are guilty. Disney has lost four dolphins in five years that were kept in the Living Seas Pavilion at EPCOT Center. These dolphins were captured from the wild by infamous dolphin hunter Jay Sweeney. In 1989 there were accusations of neglect after an unsuccessful captive breeding program led to the deaths of the last dusky seaside sparrows.
Now Disney is preparing to open a new park, Animal Kingdom, in late 1998. Instead of opting to make the park a refuge for unwanted exotic animals, Disney is using animals bred from animals captured in the wild. The park, although not open yet, has already had its first casualty. A 6-year-old black rhino, an endangered species, died after ingesting an 18-inch long stick.
Seeing animals in their natural habitat, whether live or on film, is much more educational than seeing them imprisoned or performing. Conditions in zoos must be improved. The public sees a place like Monkey Jungle as existing solely for their entertainment, and not in the best interest of the animal.
At this time, there has been no resolution to King’s situation. Monkey Jungle still wants the public to pay for a new habitat, and they refuse to send King to a better life at Zoo Atlanta. Although sometimes establishments such as Monkey Jungle may have good intentions, the animals’ needs have to come first. As zoo director David Hancocks stated, “we need a better informed, more sympathetic citizenry that will learn to tread lightly on the earth.”
Boycotting zoos and speaking up is important. King’s fate is in our hands.
For more information on how to help King, or other zoo animals, contact the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida at 954-917-2733.