In light of the absolute disaster that occurred in Ohio, where a man freed his more than fifty exotic animals prior to killing himself, I thought it crucial to point out the following documentary.
The Elephant in the Living Room follows Tim Harrison (a correctional officer and exotic-animal rescuer) as he attempts to resolve various conflicts between residents of a small Ohio town with the presence of exotic pets.
In any given city it is no longer unusual to find lions, tigers, vipers, capuchins, rheseus monkeys, chimps, etc., living within those city limits. This is, of course, dangerous for both humans and non-humans, and disrespectful of the needs of those animals displaced from their own environment. Granted, in some situations, the individual displacement of some creatures has become a necessity for the survival of its species. For those particular cases, sanctuaries, conservation centers, and AZA approved facilities are often capable of housing and taking care of animals that really belong elsewhere. Unfortunately, our insatiable desire for ownership of something unusual or powerful–as a means of somehow feeling unusual or more powerful than others–is undertaken with utter disregard for the individual creatures. The rampant inferiority complexes of humans who struggle to connect with other humans results in humans caging and owning animals that should neither be caged nor owned. Thus, the need of people like Tim Harrison who, though far less preachy than myself, understands how easy it is for people to fall in love with exotic creatures while remaining ignorant of the particular needs of those individual animals–not to mention the risks involved with housing exotic animals.
The single most impressive part of this film is Harrison’s ability to be neither self-righteous nor pretentious. Rather than blasting away at people who grow dangerously attached to the animals they have made pets, he struggles to understand their desires while trying to do what is best for the individual animals. He battles with his own actions as he attempts to discern the best approach for this growing conflict. He even admits, unlike so many other groups who assume they have it all figured out, that he is not sure what is best for animals involuntarily placed in an inhospitable environment who have either escaped or are in dire need of relocation.
Whatever is best, and going back to the recent case in Ohio, it surely cannot be the execution of almost fifty exotic animals who were only trying to survive their foreign surroundings. This is not to place blame on the correctional authorities, as all zoological parks have “protocols” for certain animals (tranquilizers do not just instantly work); it is only to suggest that it is time to have some intelligent conversations about the place of non-domesticated animals in our midst.