Is fame to blame?

Posted on March 28, 2011


Keiko was most famous for his role as Willy in the "Free Willy" franchise

When you were younger and the first ever Free Willy movie came out, do you remember begging your parents to take you to watch it in the theatre? How about when you first when to Sea world and you saw Shamu in the flesh? What about those in Berlin who saw Baby Knut born and raised as a public figure? Have we been doing right by these animals, thinking that we were making their lives better with fame and glory?

In recent posts, we have seen that 4-year-old Knut of Berlin Zoological Garden died from unknown reasons. Many believe it was heartache from the death of his keeper Thomas Dörflein. Others believe it was the constant array of fans that messed up the mind of a young child cub. But Knut is not the only famous animal to die under the spotlight.

Keiko, most famous for his role as Willy in the “Free Willy” series died in 2003 after beaching himself on a Norway beach following his release into the wild. Pneumonia was later determined as his probable cause of death.

Knut was born in captivity but rejected by his mother

However, in both cases, these animal did not get a chance to survive in the wild, in their natural habitat. Many will disagree, saying the Keiko was set free, but after being dependant on human interaction for so long, was he really free? or did he end up in another prison where he searched for the companions he knew so well? As for Knut, he was living in a prison surrounded by people who watched his every move. He never even had a chance to know what it was like to be a wild bear.

Yet every year, more and more animals are used for commercial gain and more and more animals are brought from the wild to new ‘homes’ in zoos. Activists claim that some animals are coming close to extinction, are dying out. Zoo’s use this knowledge to ‘breed’ animals in enclosed habitats and only on rare occassions are they released into the wild. But is that really the right thing to do. How much can a human teach a animal to live in the wild? Can we really show an Orca how to swim in the ocean, catch and eat fish, mate and breed? Can we teach polar bears that the reason for their thick fur is to keep them warm in the arctic? That the crowds of people who oogle at them in the zoo will not be there in the wild?