‘Majority of epidemics or pandemics in recent years have been zoonotic’

Exploiting exotic animals is risking public health at large

By John Di Leonardo

Following the introduction of IR 1777, new legislation to restrict traveling exotic animal acts in Suffolk County last week, I was attacked by the owner of Sloth Encounters Long Island – an illegal business that exploits tropical, tree-dwelling animals. Though his actions were unwarranted, they were not surprising. The FBI has long documented the link between animal abuse and human violence and the Jain Sutras have documented it even longer: 

All living beings desire happiness and have revulsion from pain and suffering. They are fond of life, they love to live, long to live…hence no living being should be hurt, injured, or killed…All things breathing, all things existing, all things living, all things whatsoever, should not be slain, or treated with violence, or insulted, or tortured, or driven away…[Anyone] who hurts living beings…, or gets them hurt by others, or approves of hurt caused by others, augments the world’s hostility towards [themselves].  

Child psychologist Dr. Sujatha Ramakrishna agrees:  

Wild animals that stand on their heads and jump through hoops are performing unnatural acts, under the threat of force. Children who watch these performances learn that it is acceptable to force another living creature to do something that is stressful, and often even painful, as long as it serves the purpose of entertainment. This mindset will carry over into their relationships with people, and it will not serve them well in life.  

Gail Frydkowski, Chair of the United Federation of Teachers’ Humane Education Committee adds, “Exploiting wild animals as props provides a dangerous example to children about taking advantage of more vulnerable beings.”  

Those who exploit exotic animals in this way also risk public safety and public health at large. In India, Thechikottukavu Ramachandran, the famed captive elephant of the Thechikottukavu Devasom in Kerala who has killed 15 people, including half a dozen mahouts, is no longer allowed to be displayed publicly because of his lengthy history of fighting against his captors. In Suffolk County, Sloth Encounters was just cited for two critical Animal Welfare Act violations for lying to USDA inspectors and mishandling animals following an apparent coverup of a child being bitten at his establishment earlier this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in humans originate in animals. These types of pathogens are zoonotic, meaning that they form in animals and can be transmitted to humans. The majority of diseases that have caused epidemics or pandemics in recent years are zoonotic, including AIDS, avian flu, swine flu, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika, and COVID-19. Elephants, seals, and sea lions may even transmit tuberculosis. 

As Acharya Tulsi taught us, “self-discipline only is life.” Violating Jain tents of ahimsa – or non-violence – and aparigraha – or non-possessiveness – by exploiting wild and exotic animals is cruel and not only harms nonhuman animals but also harms ourselves.  

For this week’s Anuvrat, I encourage readers in the United States to contact Suffolk County legislators Trish Bergin and Jason Richberg to thank them for introducing IR 1777 which would stop toothless monkeys from being strapped to dogs and sensitive, solitary sloths from being hauled to children’s birthday parties at Clerk.Legislature@suffolkcountyny.gov. For readers in India, I encourage you to help prohibit animal circuses by contacting the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying at PETAIndia.com.  

John Di Leonardo is the founding director of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION). 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].


Images courtesy of ravivardelhi.com and (Image provided)

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