I’ll start this post by clarifying that there is a difference between keeping animals for rehabilitation purposes or as family pets and keeping healthy, wild animals captive in an unnatural environment.
Rehabilitation facilities are dedicated to nursing sick or injured wild animals back to health with the intent of releasing them back into their natural habitat, unless they would be unable to fend for themselves (a great example is Winter the Dolphin at Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium.) Household pets are loved members of the family and have gone through hundreds of years of domestication in order to live optimally in a family home.
On the other hand, places like SeaWorld and for-profit zoos keep healthy, wild animals in a captive environment much smaller than what they are used to for entertainment purposes.
When Blackfish came out in 2013 and informed the public about the grizzly reality of Tilikum’s life as a performing killer whale at SeaWorld, it sparked a movement for animal rights that had been a long time coming. In the wild, orcas can live 30-50 years on average, while SeaWorld’s captive whales live an average of 13 years. Wild orcas can swim up to 100 miles a day, but in the tiny tanks SeaWorld provides for them, it would take about 1,208 laps around the perimeter to reach that.
Circuses are another form of animal entertainment that is changing its practices due to public pressure. The famous circus Ringling Bros. is coming to a close this May due to a variety of factors, one being a history of battles with animal rights organizations. Back in May of 2016, Ringling Bros. retired their elephants for the same reason. Circus elephants, including those that were in the Ringling Bros. Circus, are notoriously mistreated. Bullhooks and other inhumane tools are used to “train” the elephants to perform, and injuries often go untreated. (Watch the movie “Water for Elephants” for an interesting and educational in-depth look into circus practices.)
It isn’t fun for animals to be ripped from their home and kept in a small, unnatural habitat to be gawked at by paying visitors. Do animals a favor and avoid participating in the animal entertainment industry. Instead, opt for a visit to a rehabilitation center or sanctuary, where the animals are treated kindly and are only kept for as long as their health depends on it.