Does Bindi Irwin Support "Animal Abuse"? Ridiculous Steve Irwin and SeaWorld Criticism Surges

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Animal Rights in Full Swing

*This article has been edited to include the Bindi Irwin controversy*

Organizations like PETA rejoice as animal rights are rapidly becoming trendy. The growing movements that are promoting anti-captive animal sentiment seek to alter public perception about animal captivity to such an extent that one day, a child dreaming of becoming a zoo keeper when they grow up will be accused of oppression and be compared to the slave masters of the 18th century.

Now and more than ever, people are viewing the separation of humanity from animals as ‘progressive’ and a necessary change for our society. Defending the real merits of zoos and pet ownership against them can be an exhausting endeavor.

Steve Irwin, who once inspired many and was often a celebrated figure for his contributions toward conservation efforts is now having his past televised methods questioned.

Steve Irwin's Family

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To the dismay of those who respect the reptile handling legend, phrases like “blame the stupid Americans” were expressed by people believing him to be responsible for the so-called popularity of the exotic pet trade.

While in the past, some people expressed discomfort with Irwin’s excessive handling of snakes and other reptiles, Tim Harrison, who made an appearance in the documentary The Elephant in the Living Room, accused Irwin's show of having a far more significant, cultural impact. Harrison stated on an episode of Sunday Night that entertainers such as Irwin and other similar presentations are responsible for the so-called surge in exotic pet interest. These statements were met with criticism from Steve Irwin fans, and a response from Bob Irwin (who has now criticized his granddaughter), the late Steve Irwin’s father on the horrors of owning exotic pets like sugar gliders.

Now, Steve Irwin's daughter is suffering through more public backlash than Steve has faced throughout his career combined, because she signed a contract with the notorious aquatic zoo, SeaWorld.

Didn't you hear? It's trendy to hate SeaWorld

Bindi Irwin obviously doesn't have a problem with zoos. Her mother, Terri Irwin, is now the owner of the renowned Australia Zoo that once also belonged to Bindi's late father. The zoo houses elephants, another controversial zoo resident, likely equal in many ways to the intelligence of killer whales. Yet now Bindi is ludicrously being implored that she is "shaming her father's name" or that Steve is "rolling in his grave" due to her decision to 'team up' with SeaWorld.

Now, Bindi isn't 'teaming up' with SeaWorld to catch more orcas for their shows (this doesn't occur anymore anyway), she is likely just adding her face and support to their conservation efforts. Yet, unfair and downright vicious remarks are being directed toward her due to Blackfish hysteria. It makes a person wonder how other aquariums that keep smaller dolphins (as oracs are dolphins) do not enrage people anywhere near as much; this is likely due to the fact that a new documentary (as there are existing older ones) hasn't told this young crowd how to think yet, yet I'm sure one is on its way to change that.

Regardless of one's opinions about SeaWorld and orca captivity, the viral hatred being directed toward Irwin is revealing the absurdity of the mindset that perpetuates the anti-zoo criticism. Bindi may be now wondering why the captivity of one animal is being held in such tight revulsion over all the rest.

Was Steve's Snake Handling Cruelty?

One of the most absurd accusations being slung at the Irwin family that has been revived since the Bindi-SeaWorld controversy is the idea that Steve was also an animal abuser who chased, manhandled, and 'played' with wild animals for the purposes of entertainment. It is also claimed that this 'abuse' led to his death. Whether or not such presentations are educational can be up for further debate, but the idea that it is somehow a moral crime to subject animals to fear for a brief moment is illogical, and stems from people's oversensitivity toward animals.

Wild animals all likely experience unparalleled stress throughout their existence, some of it life-threatening (unlike with Irwin) and it will just as likely eventually take their lives as well. The reptiles pursued by Irwin on his shows probably experience similar stress to many pet snakes that are handled by their owners with more frequency. Irwin merely caused stress on animals for probably minutes at most for footage that would live on for generations to entertain and possibly educate. In a world where there are many moral crimes inflicted upon animals, this seems like something pathetic to become upset over.

Exotic pets and Entertainment

Do entertainers like Steve Irwin, Jeff Corwin, and other similar figures prompt public interest in exotic pet keeping? I’m not going to pretend to have the answers to complicated sociological questions, but one thing that seems obvious is this; as interest and appreciation of animals goes up (for whatever reason) so would interest in keeping such animals as pets because, despite what animal rights activists will try to torment you into believing, most people keep pets because they love them and desire to be close to them...regardless of the objections of those who have the ideological belief that pets don’t belong in homes.

Keeping a pet tiger is a venture not suited for most people, and probably not for many that currently own them as well, but it can be done, and should be able to be done by those that can offer homes to the displaced carnivores.

The Increase of Owning Large, Dangerous Carnivores

I fail to see how Crocodile Hunter-esque programming has anything to do with this alleged rise in the ownership of animals like lions and bears. I think that is Harrison’s more ridiculous claim. In fact, I don’t recall too many of Irwin’s programming featuring tigers, and to a far lesser extent, interacting with them. Newer programs featuring the controversial Dave Salmoni, such as Into the Pride fit that bill.

Yet still, attacks by ‘pet’ or privately owned big cats, bears, and venomous snakes are undeniably rare. You can see this for yourself by tracking the number of important incidents regarding such animals. As a public safety officer, I’m sure Tim also knows that attacks from exotic animals of any kind against the uninvolved public are even rarer (a 'pet' exotic cat as of current hasn’t escaped and attacked someone uninvolved with it). Most of the attacks and fatalities happen with the owners themselves.

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Just as internet ‘phishers’ create pathetic-looking fake emails to lure the less intelligent into clicking their malicious links, you are also bound, with any animal trade, to have a few people who are not the brightest, reckless, and lack enough common sense (like Tim Harrison) in buying big cats they are ill-equipped for.

There is no ‘culture’ of private large exotic pet owners, just isolated examples of people (like shown on The Elephant in the Living Room) that through unique ways end up with these animals. There are also private owners that are affiliated with zoo work, or run the zoo from their own property (many are not accredited by the AZA, so are often attacked for this reason), and there are unfortunate scenarios of failed private 'sanctuaries' whose owners have succumbed to hoarding tendencies.

If laws made it harder (not impossible) for ‘anyone’ to buy or obtain such animals, I’m certain we’d see a significant decrease in an already small number of bad owners. Again, ignorant dangerous animal owners may have increased, but they are still absurdly small in numbers, as any objective statistical analysis will show. Reptiles (and in effect, venomous reptiles) are another story; they are completely unrelated to dangerous mammal ownership.

Jeff Corwin and a kinkajou
Jeff Corwin and a kinkajou | Source

Pet Ownership Changes Attitudes toward Wildlife

I can buy that it’s possible Steve Irwin-esque programs could have increased interest in reptiles, which inadvertently would also lead to an interest in owning them as pets just as viewing lions may lead to interest in visiting Africa to view them. And who can blame them? It is an enriching, satisfying, and educational hobby in which you get to reside near such impressive life forms.

Steve Irwin’s programs have nurtured more interest in reptile conservation, and I would say without a doubt that general interest in conservation will probably lead to an increase in admiration for animals, and one of the more basic reasons pet ownership is desired is for the ultimate understanding of a the selected species. Humans are typically conditioned to appreciate less-scaley, warm-blooded animal counterparts as these animals remind us of ourselves, yet positive portrayals of reptiles have lead toward increased interest in raising them as pets just as we do so with dogs, cats, bunnies, and hamsters. Is this a horrendous thing?

Dr Amber Gillett, an Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital veterinarian, with an injured Koala in the Intensive Care Unit
Dr Amber Gillett, an Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital veterinarian, with an injured Koala in the Intensive Care Unit | Source

Benefits of captivity

I also believe that increased ownership of these animals will lead to more interest in the welfare of these animals, not only in the ‘pet trade’ but in conservation-related issues of which they usually receive little attention compared to tigers, elephants, and other megafuana mammals (an unfortunate side effect is the decreased interest in the welfare of the animals that are fed to reptiles for food). In fact, zoos often get accused by ‘anti-caps’ of only promoting the conservation of popular animals, yet this same group of people fail to see the benefits that ‘herp’ keepers can contribute. Now we have people to call when a snake turns up where it doesn’t belong to safely apprehend the critter, instead of some ignorant, over-reacting person smashing it with a 2x4. I am a strong believer in the emotional education that animal captivity offers, which is distinct from the education of basic factoids (the cheetah runs x miles per hour) that most people associate with it.

Animals in Captivity

Zoos and wildlife exhibitors are facing similar criticism for ‘encouraging the public to keep wild pets’ based on their displays of captive animals. For one thing, this mentality that we have the inability to have minds of our own needs to disappear. Simply seeing an animal or watching another person handle it may foster an interest in that animal, and such an interest may lead to pet ownership. As long as this is done properly, this isn’t a problem.

Logic denotes that along with an increase in pet ownership rates, the rates of bad owners will increase with them. This applies to all animals, and human animals. Impulse buys are done when puppies are seen in windows, and ill-equipped people might be attracted to animals that are out of their league, financially and/or educationally. It’s a sad fact of life, but banning those who love their pets and treat them well from being able to continue their life’s work, denying them their ‘niche’ in life, is equally horrendous.

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Comments 23 comments

ikepius profile image

ikepius 4 years ago from Twittosphere: @ikepius

I am an "animal" lover, and I think this is an interesting piece. Keeping exotic pets seems okay, but you know, when a thing becomes popular it tends to become abused and then things go overboard. From a few hawks, you find that they start decimating populations just to satisfy the demand for the beautiful birds. The government has to do what it has to do to keep the practice from getting popular. Otherwise.......


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 4 years ago from New York Author

Hawks? err not sure what you mean ikepius. But yes what you said is true about any trade. Exotic pets do not need to be taken from the wild and most instances of that are done illegally.


ikepius profile image

ikepius 4 years ago from Twittosphere: @ikepius

glad you get my point. hawks are predatory birds, smaller than eagles. but it doesn't have to be hawks, it could be anything...and then the madness starts, and get endangered.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

A great hub and yes I have to agree with ikepius it becomes almost a norm to keep these animals and then owners become lax in the jobs and it is at this point that animals being abused could stem from. A well informed hub plus so very interesting. Have a wonderful weekend.

Eddy.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 4 years ago from New York Author

Hi Eiddwen, Thanks for commenting. I wouldn't say that exotic pets like the one's I'm interested in are so popular. Most people haven't heard of many of the more popular exotic mammals like coatimundis, fennec foxes, and genets, save actually knowing they can be owned in this country. I think the reptile trade has exploded relative to the way it was in the past. I also think the marine aquarium and terrarium hobbies have as well, mainly because I see so many dealers and businesses popping up to accommodate it, and the reptile show I go to is always a packed house. My belief is that this is so because they are amazing hobbies. I wonder what took them so long. Abuse occurs with any trade, as watching a few of the many 'animal cops' presentations on Animal Planet can support for dogs and cats. Especially when the economic situation is poor and people are barely providing for themselves.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 4 years ago from New York Author

Ikepius, I just got confused because I don't see hawks being kept as pets in any significant numbers. I don't think too many people would find appeal in a pet that must be housed in a large flight cage and doesn't really socialize. Hopefully qualities like that will keep most novice keepers away from 'poorer pet quality' exotic pets.


Tarzan 3 years ago

It is unfortunate that brain washed Industrial society animals called humans no longer understand true freedom. The animals you wan to capture enslave and own for your ego, stays , and or to fill your loneliness is sad at best for you and the animals you control and manipulate. If you had ever truly experienced freedom and were not born into slavery yourself then you would have the perspective of a free born animals that was not born into a TAX system of lifelong labor just to eat. the labor and effort it takes to survive and eat in the wild is a free will they are not government mules forced to bare the load of a parasitic man made government. So let them live the lives they were born into and you go live your pathetic want to own everything lives and "LIVE AND LET LIVE".

Industrial society does not have any problem locking humans up like animals in a Zoo also. It is the same brainwash that allows non violent crimes to be punished with a ZOO mentality! My point is unless you want to be caged or locked in a house or pen all day then don't do it to another living being!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Hello "Tarzan", lol such interesting thoughts. Well you are making my point more; since I am not "truly free" according to you yet this existence is not making me suffer that may reveal why I have no ethical qualms keeping animals with me. As an extremely cognitively complex animal you would think that my lack of 'wild living' would have a profound effect on my psychology. Yet I feel more sane than those that hold baseless romantic beliefs.

I think I'll exercise one of my 'few remaining freedoms' and ignore your request to give up my pets despite your protesting.


janeanonymous 3 years ago

Big Cat Rescue was denied AZA accreditation back in 2001. Just because a facility is not currently AZA accredited doesn't mean it cannot meet the criteria AZA sets today. The AZA has no legal authority. USDA certification is much more meaningful with regard to public safety, animal welfare and the law.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Janeanonymous, you couldn't be more wrong. USDA has very low standards regarding animal welfare, and that's how many crappy roadside zoos continue to exist. All exhibitors and breeders are required to have this license. It is a minimum requirement for any facility. Big Cat Rescue was denied accreditation because of their unorthodox tourism tactics.


janeanonymous 3 years ago

If the USDA's are so low, why does the AZA require that the applicant be USDA accredited? It doesn't matter why Big Cat Rescue was denied AZA accreditation 12 years ago. As I stated, " Just because a facility is not currently AZA accredited doesn't mean it cannot meet the criteria AZA sets today." AZA is voluntary, USDA is not!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Because as I said before, all facilities -must- have USDA licensing or their operation is against the law. You cannot run a zoo without it. That doesn't mean they have high standards, their minimum caging size for tigers is about the size of a parking space. AZA is not just about standards for animal care. I believe you must be a part of a SSP, and Big Cat Rescue is anti-breeding now (unlike when they applied). So I doubt they would qualify. BCR has become accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, a prime reason why I speculate the owner's change of heart was motivated by success though another means.


janeanonymous 3 years ago

I am not part of a SSP and for you to imply that is just outrageous. For you to take attack me on a personal level is unjust!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

I have no idea what's wrong with you but a SSP= species survival program and I made no references to you whatsoever.


exoticpetsrule 3 years ago

I'd love to see that actually ruling about BCR denial of accreditation from the AZA. Do you know how I can get it a copy?


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Sorry no, exoticpetsrule


Hyena of Ice 2 years ago

One lasting legacy of Steve Irwin is that a lot more drunks have gotten bitten by venomous snakes. I remember an old Venom ER episode where the doctor there said that he'd seen approx. 120 western diamondback bites in his 10 years of work, and all of them involved inebriation (some of this would have occurred before Irwin became famous, though) I should highlight the fact that western diamondbacks are much less aggressive than their eastern cousins.


Weis on the rocks profile image

Weis on the rocks 2 years ago

I enjoyed "Elephant in the Living Room". To me it seemed to be an unbiased look into exotic pet ownership. Notable excerpts to me were the well adjusted, responsible couple and their loving cougar, the disheartening story of the man who was scarcely able to care for himself - let alone his lions, and Ken Foose's succinct statements on the topic. An exotic animal under the right care and environment can be a wonderful pet. I'd sooner legislate the propagation of humans than deprive physically and financially stable adults of the ability to own unique, responsibly bred animal companions as the former is actually much more likely to negatively effect me personally. The latter is interesting and fun. Not to mention more comfortable for a properly cared for animal.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Weis on the rocks-- I have to say it was certainly biased, from what I can remember, the trip to the ohio auction was presented very negatively. The people with the cougar had this to say about it: http://www.amazon.com/review/R1B6JG0VE302JD


Weis on the rocks profile image

Weis on the rocks 2 years ago

I guess I didn't take the negativity regarding exotic pet ownership that seriously. The movie was largely based on lions captive to a physically and financially feeble owner and other such mismatches in the realm of exotic animal husbandry. It should be no surprise to anyone that those people were unable to properly care for their pets.

The inaptitude of a few shouldn't set any precedent for the responsible to own and maintain such animals anymore than an incapable parent should inspire legislation on human reproduction (actually significantly less so for obvious reasons in my not at all humble opinion) I guess there are too many who operate on an emotional level - more concerned with the anththropomorphic ideals they errantly assert to animals than the human freedoms that should be assumed - especially in this country.

On a side note - loved the Gaboon Viper story. I've always wanted one. Such a gorgeous animal.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

The makers of the movie hoped people would believe all exotic pet owners are in dire straights like the lion owner. Obviously, situations were big cats are owned by people who can barely financially support themselves are bound to turn out bad.


Weis on the rocks profile image

Weis on the rocks 2 years ago

Yeah, I guess when someone trots out a special case like that I see it as such. Hopefully others saw it as a warning as to the potential difficulties of animal ownership. Not everyone needs a unique animal as not everyone is capable of caring for one, or themselves. The problem is when they assume others are as incompetent as they are and attempt to strip the rights of others as is too often the case.


Wensleydale 2 years ago

If the animal rights movement is trendy, to me that's good news, because in my experience trendy things eventually stop being trendy and the public loses interest.

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