By Raphael Alexander Zoren
One of the most precious memories of my childhood is the one of my parents taking me to the Chapultepec Zoo of Mexico City. Being born and raised in Acapulco, it was sure a rare opportunity to behold such magnificent animals such as elephants, rhinoceros, lions, penguins, polar bears and of course, the cuddly pandas. As I grew up, however, this annual visit to the Chapultepec Zoo became more and more depressing. It was truly saddening to see the relatively small spaces in which these large animals were kept and the monotony of their daily lives.
“Come on, they look happy, here they don’t have predators and they don’t have to worry about obtaining food” my mother wisely told me when I was nine and started to raise doubts about the conditions and the way animals were treated in the zoo. I politely agreed and yet, the inner (and foolish) me just wanted to release these animals into the wild and let them enjoy their lives.
Then, the best (or probably worse) thing happened. They finally freed Willy.
The sad ballad of Keiko the Orca
Who is Willy? You may ask. Willy is the star of a 1993 movie, “Free Willy” about an orca and a boy. Long story short: The little manages to free the orca into the wild after befriending it. What most people didn’t know was that “Willy” wasn’t a CGI or an actor in a convincing orca suit, it was an actual orca named Keiko (“Lucky One” in Japanese, oh, the irony), that at the time, was based at the “Reino Aventura” Theme Park in Mexico City.
Granted, the enclosure was extremely small for an orca of its size so it is completely understandable that after the movie came out, many people protested for the orca to be relocated since it was logical that Keiko needed more space. The “Free Willy-Keiko Foundation” however, wanted to release Keiko into the wild, inspired by the little foolish boy in that stupid kid’s movie. At this point, you’re probably guessing how this story is going to end, don’t you?
Keiko was captured at the age of three, meaning that, he had spent more than 20 years living inside of aquariums and was completely unable to adapt to living in the open ocean. The foundation however, managed to release him and, under their care, Keiko finally died in 2003 of pneumonia.
To me, the story of Keiko was a cautionary tale about going against nature. But wait, isn’t it already unnatural for animals to be born and raised in captivity? Yes and no. Let me explain.
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