Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Despite Christian, loving lions is still dangerous

Watch the Christian the lion video that everyone—mainly Oprah—is talking about. This video moves many to tears as it seems a depiction of how love can transcend species barriers.

Although Christian's story is a touching one that summons childhood desires to befriend Simba from The Lion King, I am wary of the romanticization of human—wild animal relationships. While I don’t think Christian will inspire swarms of Simba fans to adopt lion cubs, it is dangerous for people to believe that social conditioning can fundamentally change the instinctive behavior of wild animals.

One woman’s plan to love and domesticate a chimp, Travis, went terribly awry last month. The Connecticut woman raised and cared for Travis as though he were a child, feeding him lobster, dressing him in children's clothing and entertaining him with computer games. After noticing that Travis exhibited symptoms of depression, she gave him antidepressant drugs, the effects of which had not been observed on chimps. Soon after, Travis brutally attacked a friend of the woman. He was stabbed repeatedly and eventually shot down by law officers.

Travis is like many chimpanzees who are bred to be used in the entertainment industry while infants (before they are large and unsuited for domestic life) and then left to spend the rest of their lives in small cages as they have neither the survival skills for life in the wild nor the subdued personality necessary for life in a human household. The entertainment industry frequently creates this gross misconception that wild animals can adapt to live as humans do.

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