Archive for March 12th, 2010

Animal murderers

12 March 2010

By Juliana Adelman

I doubt the recent killing at SeaWorld can have escaped your notice. On February 24th Tilikum, a killer whale, pulled his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, into a pool by her pony tail and batted her around ‘like a doll’ as one spectator recalled. By the time she was retreived from the whale’s jaws she was dead. Captive animals killing their keepers is nothing new.  Elephants were, and are, among the most common perpetrators.  One of the elephants in Dublin zoo killed her keeper in 1903; the subsequent press coverage was widespread and hit many similar notes to recent coverage of Tilikum.  However, the consequences for the animals were completely opposite.  Well into the twentieth century, the animal’s death was almost certain.  Tilikum will be spared despite having been responsible for at least one other death in the past.  This is no doubt supposed to be evidence that we are currently running a better kind of captivity than a Victorian menagerie.  Instead, I think, it reveals a greater level of hubris.  Now we think we understand animals.  Various explanations have been offered for Tilikum’s behavior, including that Brancheau’s swinging pony tail was provacative.  By coincidence the attack occurred while scientists are debating whether dolphins’ intelligence justifies their being defined as ‘nonhuman persons’ and legislation in Switzerland was mooted which would have allowed animals to have lawyers.  These attitudes are in sharp contrast to those held barely a century before. Read more