I should say “larger animals,” humans being large animals relative to some… just not to these.
Reid forwarded this LAT story on a California state review of SeaWorld’s orca show, recently in the news for the near-drowning of a trainer by a whale during a live performance. From the story:
The report, released Tuesday, follows an investigation into a Nov. 29 incident in which Kasatka, a 7,000-pound, 17-foot-long female, dragged her trainer underwater in front of hundreds of horrified spectators at Shamu Stadium.
SeaWorld officials branded the report’s findings “highly speculative and not supported by scientific fact” and met Thursday with the Cal/OSHA district manager to ask him to withdraw or modify the report.
Working with animals large enough to casually kill you bears some risk. Nonetheless, people have been managing the feat for thousands of years, accepting and mitigating the danger through careful study, mentorship and lifetimes of practice.
Performing animals are not new, but working animals have probably been in use for much longer in hunting, agriculture, construction and warfare. Effective large animal husbandry–the care and training of horses, mules, cattle, other stock–was common knowledge among rural Americans well into the 20th century. Ask your father or your grandfather. The general ignorance of working animal relationships, their benefits and dangers, is a new trend.
We’ve been at this so long as a specie, it shouldn’t surprise us that most children, given the chance, take fearlessly to handling and working with animals. My kids press their faces into my hawk’s feathers (he preens their hair) and wrangle neighborhood dogs that would give me pause. And Reid remembers one assertive young horsewoman, his daughter Lauren:
“I was never really exposed to the barn-side of dealing with horses until we moved to Tehachapi and started having them live in the backyard…I’ll never forget the first time I saw my 12 year old, 85 pound little girl yelling at a horse, yanking on its lead, and slapping it to get it to do what she wanted. And it absolutely obeyed. Lauren never had any ‘self esteem’ or ’empowerment’ issues. I figure if a little girl knows she can make a critter 20 times her weight do what she she wants, she understands she can control most anything else in her life.”
This is the education American kids once took for granted. We learned young to behave responsibly and assertively toward animals large and small, wild and tame. Now, more often, we teach our kids simply to be afraid.
Reid asked our friend Rebecca, a professional animal trainer and consultant, for her take on the SeaWorld incident. Rebecca’s answer suggests that healthy respect–not fear–and honest risk assessment are in order:
“Well, it’s only a matter of time before a large carnivore in a show setting kills someone or at least attempts to. That is why most zoos are no longer ‘free contact’ in dealing with large animals. I am quite certain that some of the birds I’ve worked with would have killed me if they had just only been big enough….This is why I don’t work with animals that I couldn’t take in a fair fight.”
But, she adds, “If animal trainers want to take the risk I say, ‘Viva le Natural Selection!'”
I can’t help but to keep bringing this post around to some larger theme. Maybe it’s a stretch. But there is a clear benefit and present need in this country for honest risk assessment, for knowing when to be humble and when assertive. For knowing who you can take in a fight. Our schools don’t teach these lessons. We learn them at home, first and as a matter of course with our animals.
I consider this as certain pressure groups work to limit everyone’s opportunity to own, train, care for and learn from animals; and as urban policy makers comply out of their own fears and lack of experience; and as fewer kids raise chickens, train horses, breed dogs, feed hogs, hunt or even visit Shamu.