Born Free USA Blog
Bruce sees me coming and starts lip-smacking and making conciliatory grunting noises. These are subordinate, appeasing gestures meant to placate a higher-ranking member of a troop. Only I’m not a member of the troop, just a human trying to care for a psychologically disturbed baboon. I glance his way as I hand a banana through the feeding slot and that’s enough to send his 45-pound frame hurtling at the fence that separates us. He bounces off the fence and takes several sideways hops grunting loudly and then displays canines that are a match for any leopard’s. One moment he’s placid and demure and the next he’s venting a rage that’s difficult to identify with. Life in a traveling menagerie can do that to a wild animal.
Bruce is not alone in his confusion and maladjustment. Many other captive wild animals display similar signs of disturbance such as spinning, swaying, violent mood swings, self-biting, self-mutilation, nervous facial tics, and other abnormal behaviors. These behaviors are undocumented in their wild counterparts. They only occur in those unfortunate enough to end up as subjects of entertainment, research, or as “pets.” Denied a normal upbringing, often ripped from their mothers soon after birth, these animals have little chance of living a fulfilling life and sometimes inflict serious harm to humans. These are not isolated events. Destructive, stereotypic behavior is actually the norm for captive primates and other wild animals.
Wild animals, including nonhuman primates, have many needs specific to their success as a species and those needs are inseparable from the environment in which they evolved. Deny them freedom to roam, freedom to associate, and freedom to mature appropriately and they will suffer — and that suffering may manifest itself in violent behavior directed at humans. Destroy their natural habitat and they may fail to exist as a species.
All life is fragile and tenuous. We hang on by a thread and imagine ourselves to be immortal but, of course, we’re not. We all move on in one way or another and maybe our best efforts in life are reflected in the choices we make to end or prevent suffering wherever we find it. Please make a conscious decision to keep Wildlife in the Wild and encourage others to do the same. Bruce can’t thank you but I will.