Stories of Captivity: Knut’s Death and Flipper’s Suicide
I didn’t know most of the names mentioned in “Fear of the Animal Planet“, but Knut stuck out. I remembered the massive news coverage, the controversial statement by an animal rights activist, a local barrista even asked me at the time what I thought about the situation, wanting the perspective of the only vegan he knows.
That was when Knut was just a baby, when all of the world heard in disbelief that an animal rights activist in Germany thought that he should be left to die; at least one zookeeper agreed with the activist’s statement (which was taken out of context, and thus shouldn’t be taken to mean that the activist actually thought Knut should be neglected), but the Berlin Zoo disagreed, and did everything they could to save Knut. He was the first polar bear cub to survive past infancy at the Berlin Zoo in 30 years. (wiki)
As an animal rights activist, it was hard to know how to feel. On one hand, saving his life means condemning him to a life of captivity. On the other hand, the situation was created by and for humans, being born into a dependent situation seemed to make intervention required. In any case, he was raised by hand by the zoo keepers, and he survived his infancy.
Perhaps you will remember Knut, the famed polar bear cub. In 2007, a kind of hysteria revolved around him, as visitors by the thousands flocked to Germany to catch a a glimpse. Knut’s owner, the Berlin Zoo, licensed his image and placed it everywhere. The zoo made $8.6 million off of the Knut craze. Nevertheless, by December of 2008, Berlin wanted to dump the bear. Knut had grown up, and he was no longer cute or marketable. It was only through a public uprising that the zoo relented and agreed to keep the polar bear – at least, until the fervor dies down.” (p. 28 of “Fear of the Animal Planet”)
It was with disbelief that I read the news today.
“He was by himself in his compound, he was in the water, and then he was dead,” said Kloes. “He was not sick, we don’t know why he died.”
A post mortem will be conducted on Monday to try pinpoint his cause of death, he said.
Between 600 and 700 people were at Knut’s compound and saw the four-year-old bear die, German news agency DAPD reported.
It’s not hard come up with speculative reasons for Knut’s death at a mere 4 years old. Health issues, of course, either from confinement itself, or perhaps from something that a visitor threw into his enclosure (a type of death that is more common than we likely realize). There could have been something unsafe in his enclosure. Maybe he was electrocuted, or maybe the water in his pool was toxic. Maybe his food was contaminated. Or maybe he committed suicide.
Suicide in animals?
It happens. After I wrote the review of “Fear of the Animal Planet”, VeganMudBlood mentioned on Twitter that it reminded her of reading about Flipper’s suicide.
I’ll never forget the story of Flipper, & how she ended her own miserable life. I have great respect for Ric O’Barry’s activism.
Wait, what? Flipper committed suicide?
Granted as an adult and looking at the show through the lens of an animal rights activist, and one who knows about the hell that is animals in entertainment, I knew that nothing was happy where Flipper the dolphin was concerned, but suicide?
I read up on it, and found the details in an interview with Ric O’Barry.
But you probably know that dolphins and whales are not automatic air breathers. Every breath they take is a conscious effort. So they can end their life whenever they want to and that’s what Cathy did. She chose to not take that next breath and you have to call that suicide, self-induced asphyxiation in a steel tank at the … Aquarium.
I remember going out there that day and it was a very hot day. There was no shade at all and I hadn’t seen her – well – so I approached the tank which was about this level here and she was on the other side. She had blisters this size from the sun. She was black from sunburn because she spent most of her time on the surface of the water. Her fin was bent just like Keiko’s. That’s why they’re bent, gravity. That’s nature saying there’s something wrong here. Try going under water when there’s no gravity.
And so she swam over and looked me right in the eye, took a breath, and just held it. Just held it. Well so I grabbed her like this and she sank to the bottom of the tank. I let her go and she sank. I jumped in and pulled her to the surface. She committed suicide. The tank – the tank is a bad thing. It’s the killing tanks.
So that’s why I’m an abolitionist.
Thanks but no tanks, that’s the message.
Animals die in captivity all the time. They die during capture, they die due to inadequate care after capture, mothers refuse to care for their young, and they die of captivity related health issues. Tuberculosis in elephants, congestive heart failure in gorillas. How many die of suicide?
Captivity is no place for animals.