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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Siding with the animals too « Previous | |Next »
January 8, 2004

I've always had a problem with zoos. The way they were historically constructed embodied a colonial gazing at the wild and the exotic, which ignored the maltreatment of the caged animals.

I came to hate Zoos as a child. I saw this representation of exhibiting nature as a site of cruelty for the lions, tigers, monkeys and polar bears.

The zoo has been reinvented. The Monarto Zoological Park near Murray Bridge in South Australia is a haven for endangered animals. It is primarily about animal welfare and conservation. Steve Urwin's Australia Zoo is quite different. It is primarily about selling an updated pioneer image of wilderness for the tourist market. The primary concern is to make money.


Good to see Leunig siding with the animals against the media-driven stuntman. Someone needs to highlight their moral status in the entertainment business.

More on the inability of Steve Irwin and Australia Zoo here. It's a piece that says that Irwin, the khakis-clad showbiz personality, cannot take criticism even of his cornball wildlife programs. And those who have a different view of wildlife conservation (eg crocodile farming) are dismissed as the "Hitlers of wildlife".

When will we hear the old line of tall poppies being cut down by ratbags filled with envy and resentment?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:28 AM | | Comments (17)


I understand your sentiments Gary but on balance I'd still favour the interaction of humans with real animals via circuses and zoos. The day when human experience of animals is simply a pixel image, may have more dire long term consequences for the animal world.

circuses are fucked-up, are circus animals real animals, or parodies of some perverse human fantasy? zoos are a little better. a lot of people don't get interaction with animals (other than cats and dogs) because they drive everywhere. Even in Adelaide, if you walk or ride, you will come across possums, owls, spiders, rats, foxes and the like.

I was talking to someone the other day about rats.

I've never seen a rat in the wild. (that is, an untamed wild rat). The only rats I've seen are those pet rats that some of the more 'exotic' people choose to keep.

I've never seen a rat in Adelaide. I'm assured that they are here though.

oh there are rats scott. lots and lots of suburbs with rat problems - especially the older ones. i've seen them all over: scurrying across suburban arterial roads at odd hours of the night, brazenly scamperng around the end of a friend's verandah in the inner city. And if you're game to walk along the Torrens of an evening, there are heaps along the banks.

can't say i'm a fan.

Circuses are a strange way for humans to get to know animals that live in the wild.I would have thought that habitat of the animal would be crucial for any understanding.

It is the habitat that is being destroyed by humans in the name of market utility.

Hence no platypus in the River Murray.

Yeah, it's like aliens getting their knowledge of humans from Big Brother.

I have seen plenty of rats too Saint. They love to hide in hedges. Foxes are definately around in suburbia, i've seen them in the parklands and in the northern suburbs.

As far as circuses go I'd just make a couple of points. Firstly they have been around for a long time and I suggest you don't discard a widespread, cross-cultural tradition lightly. Secondly circuses(and I would include Irwin's business in this) are a way of showing children the wonder of animals. Now it is true to say that this is not in ideal conditions or circumstances. As adults, with adult tastes, we would most like to view a lion or elephant in their natural habitat in Africa. We should not forget we were children once and can learn a lot from games and entertainment. Simply put, children can learn a wonder and love of animals from the excitement of a circus act, which can mature into a more adult one.

Having said that I am trying to come to terms in an adult way, with a backyard possum, which is nightly knocking off my first crop of nectarines before they ripen. I hope the mongrel gets a bellyache.

I didn't like seeing and knowing the way circus animals were treated as a kid, it has nothing to do with being a 'stuffy' adult. The same goes for poorly kept animals in zoos, as I witnessed at Kryal Castle one time when i was about 12. I appreciate what you are saying about kids gaining an interest in animals, but i think there are better ways than the circus.

That something is widespread and a tradition does not mean that it is automatically some grand and noble activity.

Circuses have an aura of innocence an d god natured fun. Behind the aura can lie a cruelty to animals which is rarely seen.

Why the cruelty? Its profit and loss. Circuses are pretty cash strapped busineses and the money from the gate takings is used to keep the circus as a business afloat.Little money is left over to spend on caring for the welfare of the animals-eg., elephants; transporting the large cats in small crates etc.

Hence the neglect of the animals rather than compassion and respect.For more on this see Three Rings of Cruelty

The show biz is all about gettign an elephant to stand on a smal bucket. What is educational about that?

What I was going to say int he above comemnts but forgot, was that in a circus animals are seen as the property of humans, and not as beings with moral and legal status status.

In the traditional kind of circus ethics and the law apply to human beings not the animals. So the suffering of the animals does not really matter.

What matters is the show must continue. Why not a circus with empty cages and an emphasis on human athleticism?

There are such circuses, definately a couple of Australian ones like that.

OK, I don't subscribe to the school of thought that says the whale is my brother, but I do think Irwin deserves criticism.
It's a pity this weekend's article didn't emphasise the final paragraph. In the early days, Irwin used to supplement his income by catching rogue crocs for the Queensland government and doing other wildlife work - until he hit the big time in the states (wife's family might have helped there).

As the author said, the act has now taken over the man. He's found his checque book and lost any perspective. He ain't stepping back. Note the different stories he spun to the local media and to that in the States which is his biggest cash cow. And yes, the khakis are just part of game.

In this piece here Susan Mitchell says that Irwin is using his children (I month & 5 years)in his publicity stunts to keep the cash flow going.

These stunts are like the pantomine acts of the the old travelling variety shows before television swept them away in the 1950s.

side," she urges early on

Hey my name's Samantha,
I'm from Australia and i have to do a skool debate, i was wonderting if you had any info about Steve that is positive, if you could please email it to me at i would be sooo happy
Thanks Samantha

I am so very sad to hear of steves death. I adore the way he rescued any creature


yes. I agree. He loved animals and he fought strongly against the illegal wildlife trade.