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

Updated on August 16, 2014
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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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