Animals are not ours to dominate or held captive

By John Di Leonardo 

The venerable Mahavira preached, “do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” With this in mind, I testified in favor of IR 1777 to restrict traveling wild and exotic animal acts in Suffolk County, New York last week, urging the legislature to pass a ban on cruel wild animal acts immediately and without any broad education exemptions.  

With Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus shutting down after 146 years and now planning a return without animals, and more than 150 cities and counties across 37 states having restricted or banned the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows, it has never been clearer that the public has turned its back on cruel and dangerous wild and exotic animal acts in favor of hiring talented performers who can go home at the end of the day and retire when they wish. However, there are still individuals motivated by pride and avarice enslaving wildlife under the guise of education or even “edu-tainment”. From roadside zoos to hands-on “wildlife encounters”, these for-profit enterprises teach children all the wrong lessons: that animals are ours to dominate and do with them as we choose, holding wildlife captive in an unnatural habitat and feeding them an unnatural and often unhealthy diet. Businesses that allow public interactions are especially worrisome, teaching children the false lesson that dangerous wild animals are safe to handle. When these animals are brought into strange environments, such as homes or parties, these issues are compounded and animals may lash out, injuring themselves or patrons. 

Acharya Tulsi Ji

Another issue that is much less discussed is the threat these “encounters” have toward conservation. Studies show that displaying endangered animals in unnatural environments harms conservation efforts by not only redirecting funding from legitimate in-situ conservation efforts, but also gives the false impression that the world has a copious amount of animals and that certain species are thriving when they are actually heading toward extinction. For example, there are more tigers in captivity in the United States than there are in the wild, experts with the Sloth Conservation Foundation say that sloths are heading toward extinction more quickly than they can even be listed as endangered due to loss of habitat and poaching for wildlife encounters, and nocturnal carnivores like bearcats are being marketed as pets for reasons as frivolous as giving off a scent similar to popcorn despite being listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Another, probably shocking fact, is that giraffe populations have seriously declined because of habitat loss, civil unrest, poaching and human-caused habitat changes, despite their popular appearance at petting zoos communicating to families and young children that they are not going anywhere. 

Instead of patronizing roadside zoos or hiring a wildlife “edu-tainer” for your child’s next birthday party or classroom experience, I urge you to make an Anuvrat, or small vow, to support your local wildlife rehabilitation clinic or preserve and efforts to conserve the few wild lands we have left, living and eating more sustainable. More than 90% of all Amazon rainforest, which functions as the lungs of our Earth, has been cleared since 1970 for grazing livestock and even more has been cleared for growing crops to feed these billions of “food” animals. Keeping animals and their products off your plate not only saves the lives of nearly two hundred animals every year, but researchers from the University of Oxford argue it may be the single most effective way to reduce our environmental impact

To take action to help wild and exotic animals on Long Island, you can also take the following steps:  

1) Email Legislative clerk to urge the Suffolk County legislature to pass Intro 1777 to restrict traveling exotic animal acts immediately and without further exemptions, both to protect public safety and animal welfare. 

2) Email federal authorities at [email protected] and urge them to revoke Sloth Encounters exhibitor Larry Wallach’s license (21-C-0069) for failing to abide by local laws. You can learn more about Long Island’s most sordid animal exhibitor at 


John Di Leonardo is the founding director of Humane Long Island. He was previously the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He has a Master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College. He also earned a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies (ISJS) in India. John can be reached at [email protected]. 

Image courtesy of Provided

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