Sunday, November 9, 2008

6 Flags Discovery Kingdom No Fun for Animals

Well, I made it to the San Francisco area a few weeks ago, settling into Concord in a rented room where a nice lady boards me and 3 other guys. I started working right away at the Contra Costa county animal shelter for Dr. Bachman (see Romania blog), and checking out the area on weekends. After reading on a website about the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in nearby Vallejo, Ca, I had to check it out for myself and see if it was as bad as was claimed. And I brought a couple of cameras with me to document any cruelty I might find. (I spent as little $ as possible getting in: I bought the internet discount ticket, and didn't park in their $15 ripoff parking lot but instead parked across the street. I also didn't spend a penny on anything extra, not even a stick of gum.)
I spent all day roaming around checking out every animal, exhibit, cage and show I could find. If I had gone a year ago I probably wouldn't have noticed much wrong with them. But the last year has been an incredible period of learning: while preparing for my round-the-world trip I spent several months online researching zoos, sanctuaries and animal cruelty in general. Then for 6 months I traveled the world checking out all kinds of animals in as many places as I could (all in this blog).
That, and 14 years as a veterinary technician working in emergency clinics, had taught me to be a bit more observant than the average hot-dog-munching theme-park visitor. I filmed the pink flamingos and their mutilated wings (done to keep them from flying away.) Check out the photo: see how the wing on the left has been amputated? The other birds were all the same.) Worse, their pond was right next to a huge, loud ride booming and hissing every few minutes, causing them all to flap their wings agitatedly. Some life, huh?
I took photos of the shy, nocturnal fennec foxes in their little cage situated right next to a tilt-a-whirl type ride, and the alligators stuck in a small pen within spitting distance of a huge rollercoaster. It was the same with the camels, lions, tigers, cougars, the list goes on. The lions had a pile of rocks to lie on and little else.

The giraffe pen was small, bare, and ugly, but it was right in front of a pretty river which gave it a bigger look and distracted the eye from the actual habitat. It was amost an optical illusion, as you can see in the photo. I asked a staff person in front of the giraffes, "Is this all they get?" She replied that they also get "walked around the park every day" when the cusomers werent' there. Now, I'm no expert on giraffes, but doesn't that sound unlikely to you, that someone "walks" them around the park? I asked her how they went about that, but she "didn't know, as she was only there during open hours". If you worked there, right in front of the tallest animals in the world, wouldn't you kind of wonder how they were walked like pets around your place of employment? Wouldn't you at least ask someone about it? Or even come early to see it once, if you had an iota of human curiosity?

I was lied to twice again. Once by a handler of a bald eagle, whose right wing was hanging down the whole time; I asked her about it and was told, "Oh, he's just tired". Look at the photo: does that look normal to you? Ever seen a "tired" bird hanging one wing (just one, mind you) down like that? And once again by an elephant handler who, when I asked about the bullhook he was holding just to see what he would say, answered, "Oh, they have skin three inches thick. They don't feel a thing." That was news to me, having studied elephants and read many times that their skin was up to one inch thick in certain areas but paper thin around the mouth, ears, and mucous membranes, a fact the handlers know all too well and use their bullhooks there for maximum effect.

The 6 Flags staff seems to take advantage of the general ignorance of most visitors of animal husbandry and behavior, and help perpetuate myths, misbeliefs and outright lies. The way they did it so easily and efforlessly led me to believe they were well practiced in it, and surely are not going against any kind of company policies in doing so. That three employees would risk being fired in one day lying to a single visitor implies that others, perhaps most, do it quite frequently. Lesson: don't believe what they tell you.

They put on little shows, wear goofy costumes and tell lame jokes, and give you brief glimpses of beautiful animals. (One of them looked uncannily like my nephew Eric-- the staff guy, that is!)

I also had to see "Shouka's Celebration" show, and fell in love with the big orca. But she didn't have much to celebrate, having barely enough room to swim around and dive in her pool. It looks big to untrained eyes; however take the water out and put in a large land mammal, and you have a barren, empty, cruelly boring and inadequate little space that angers people with enough sense to see beyond the booming music and silly tricks. The dolphins looked no better off. I videotaped the worst places (and later posted some on YouTube.)
But mostly I just watched the elephants, a mix of African and Asian females in barren, ridiculously small, and ludicrously inadequate pens. The poor elephant patiently giving rides to visitors and their toddlers paced a little circuitous path over and over through what was a nice, green, shaded area. But right next to it, practically unnoticed by anyone, were the remaining elephants, languishing in a barren, boring little dirt pen. The were standing around looking bored and depressed, one leaning to take weight off one obviously painful leg. What looked small was in fact even smaller than it appeared; the area was divided into two smaller pens to separate the Africans from the Asians.
I finished by watching the "Elephant Discovery" or "Encounter" or whatever it was called. It was a short demonstration of some basic skills they had taught Tava, the matriarch of the little clan. She was absolutely beautiful, but when I really looked closely at her, her body language spoke loudly of hopeless resignation to her fate. Her handler kept telling her "Trunk" upon which she would immediately raise her trunk up onto her head, undoubtedly to give her a happy, saluting kind of look. But check out the photo I took (attached) and see an expression undeniably sad. I wondered what kind of brutal training had made her fearful enough to keep raising her trunk so quickly for a puny human.

So that's 6 Flags today: very showy, all loud music, bright colors, fast rides, overpriced junk food and just plain junk for sale, and squeezed down among and between the rides, crowds and theaters, live the animals. Enduring long days of noisy, vibrating machines and screaming riders, these wonderful wild creatures, who should be in quiet forests and deep jungles, getting brief glances from passersby who hurry by to catch the next roller coaster ride, or pause for a moment to point out some animal in a cage to their toddler, thereby reinforcing at an early age the belief that it's okay to keep them captive their entire lives simply for us to stare at for a brief moment, then move on to watch the magician's show around the corner.

1 comment:

MozzarElla said...

Oh, David, what a report. Disgusting how damned humani-centric (?) human beings are. I was going to say mankind, but I couldn't see using that term when there is nothing KIND about the mistreatment MAN subjects to fellow animals on this earth.
Maybe you could somehow spread the word to local schools in the area... maybe of middle/high school levels. Would students be so moved to write or petition the theme "park"?

I'm behind in correspondence to you as is too usual these days.
Take care,