While in San Diego, staying at a resort that is right next to SeaWorld, I have been asked if we would be taking Norah to see the animals. I thought it might be good to explain why we will never be taking our daughter to the Zoo or Aquarium, as our reasons may be something that others didn’t realize was a reality. It can be difficult to notice the difference between Zoos and Animal Sanctuaries, but there’s a reason why I support one and not the other. I used to have no idea what the difference was and I never really questioned why there were penguins from Africa living in an Aquarium in Vancouver. Similar to eating the ‘standard diet’, going to Zoos was just something that you did as a child and never thought twice about. Thankfully, my eyes were opened and I have been so passionate about helping out in the rescue community ever since.

There are some aquariums that have a few rescued animals and that is wonderful, sadly, that is not the case for a majority of the animals in captivity these days. So where exactly do zoo animals come from? Some of them are grabbed from the wild at a young age, when they are easier to catch and transport, then sold at auctions. Others were born into the zoo life, never even knowing what freedom was like, also meaning that their parents or grandparents were stolen from the wild. There is an elephant named Sissy (pictured), who was stolen in Thailand from her family when she was less than a year old. She was shipped to Six Flags in Texas as entertainment, soon after she was sold to Frank Buck Zoo, and then a huge flood hit. For nearly two days Sissy was fully submerged under water, only her trunk was visible as it clung desperately to a tree, the whole event caused her immense trauma. A few years later, she was sent to Fort Worth Zoo, in order to be bred and birth babies that would be passed around and sold from zoo to zoo. However, she was not getting along with the other elephants and refused to breed, so she was sent right back to Frank Buck Zoo. After a decade of living there, a zoo keeper was found dead in her enclosure and the Frank Buck Zoo was keen to get rid of this ‘killer’. The Houston Zoo briefly took Sissy off of their hands, before they decided she wasn’t worth their time and shipped her to the El Paso Zoo. There, she was brutally beaten with an axe, as they tried to stamp out any little bit of wild that she had left in her. After over two years of being beaten, and decades more of being shipped around, Sissy was spotted by The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. She was rescued by them and will live out her life in a huge, happy and home-like sanctuary. In the wild, elephants live in herds and bond for life, Sissy never had that and so at the sanctuary, she constantly carried around a tire for a sense of security. A couple months after her arrival in Tennessee, an elephant named Winkie arrived and Sissy put down the tire, she had finally found a true friend.

The story about Sissy is not uncommon, this is reality for most of the animals that you see behind the bars and in the enclosures. These facilities try to make it appear as if the animals have a nice and large enclosure, but from a different perspective, you’d see this is not the case. Zoos are a business and they’re in it for the money, there is a reason no zoo would keep Sissy, she was not cooperative and labeled as a ‘threat’ (I mean she is after all, a wild animal). Whereas a sanctuary, as you can see in this story, take in the tortured and challenging animals. Sanctuaries are not in it for profit, their main goal is to apologize to these animals for the abuse humans have caused, by providing the best living atmosphere they can for them to live out the rest of their days and by treating them with gentleness and respect. A zoo will sell an animal if the animal is giving them troubles, they’ll abuse an animal to try and get them to cooperate by instilling fear. Zoos and aquariums will take animals out of the wild and from their families, purely for entertainment purposes. They will also breed animals in order to sell them, or keep them and have ‘new, fresh, cute babies’ to draw in the public. These places are so unnatural for animals, some giraffes and other species are kept indoors in a tiny enclosure all winter and never step foot outside for the whole season. The reason for this is to ‘protect’ them from unfamiliar weather, but they are causing more harm by forcing these animals to live in a box for months. Can you imagine being a giraffe and being forced to live indoors? Many people have seen the Orcas with the collapsed dorsal fin, and the reason their fin becomes this way is due to lack of movement/use and an unnatural diet of thawed dead fish. The whales are kept in such incredibly small tanks with limited movement and poor food, that their body starts to wither away. 100% of  male Orcas in captivity have collapsed dorsal fins and most females do as well, while less than 1% of wild Orcas suffer with this. Not only are captive creatures physically hurting, but they are tortured with intense boredom and depression, they have brains just like we do and were created to roam freely. It is stated that the average amount of time that a person looks at a zoo elephant is 79.5 seconds, and for other species, it is as low as 8 seconds. People are paying for these creatures to spend their entire lives living in these unsuitably small quarters, only to have ‘customers’ briefly stare at them and then move on. The public gets to come and go, but the animals stay there, stuck behind those walls for their entire lives.

Animal Sanctuaries are working tirelessly to rescue and care for as many of these animals as they possibly can. It is very rare that these creatures can be released back into the wild, as they have become dependent on humans for food and many develop debilitating illnesses or injuries, due to being held captive. I urge you to do your research before visiting a sanctuary, as not all of them are true non profit rescues, there should be no ‘head honcho’ with a pocket full of cash. Find out where they get their animals from and if the animals have a home there for life. Some sanctuaries are free to visit, while most ask for a donation of $10-$20, simply to help cover vet bills, food, rent etc for the animals. They should also be excited about having people volunteer for them and having items donated to them, not just money. It may take a bit of searching to find a good sanctuary, as they don’t have much advertising in order to obtain more visitors. All of the money they receive is going to the animals, as it should be. So continue to search, ask around, as I almost guarantee that there is a rescue in your area.

If you’re interested in learning more (or are a visual learner) there is a documentary on Netflix called Blackfish, that shows the reality of what life is like for these animals. Some say Blackfish and other documentaries like it are ‘one sided’, but for starters, SeaWorld refused to be involved in the film and talk about their perspective. Therefore, it can be very difficult to make a documentary showing both sides, when one side refuses to participate. Not to mention, Seaworld had major shortcomings when it came to the quality of treatment for the animals, and it is hard to speak against that when there is actual footage and proof of it happening. The good news is, the SeaWorld San Diego location has ceased their Orca Shows, although this is great news, it is only a single location. There are so many more animals out there that are being mistreated and the only way to stop it from happening is to stop going, if you keep paying them, they’ll keep doing it.