Abused or endangered animals are under increasing pressure worldwide due to consumer demand, illegal poaching, climate change and political leaders’ inability to agree on how to protect them. International outrage has erupted over the mistreatment of captive whales in American theme parks, tigers allegedly being trafficked by monks in Thailand and the sport-killing by an American hunter of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe. The United States formed a partnership with Vietnam in May to combat wildlife trafficking, and a corporate alliance has pledged to eliminate illegal animal products from the supply chain. Meanwhile, to improve conditions for animals held in captivity, U.S. law enforcement agencies, animal-rights activists and policymakers are reclassifying animal cruelty as a felony and are examining the introduction of no-kill shelters, new animal protection regulations for theme parks and the ethics of animal research.
|Members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest the treatment of orcas in October 2015 in Long Beach, Calif. (Getty Images/Earl Gibson III)|
When a whale killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau during a live performance in 2010, filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite became interested in the living conditions of SeaWorld’s orcas. After taking her children to SeaWorld, she wondered why an orca would exhibit such aggressive behavior.
“I remember asking someone why an orca — a highly intelligent animal — would attack its trainer or essentially ‘bite the hand that feeds it,’ ” she wrote one month before the release of her documentary, “Blackfish,” which explored SeaWorld’s alleged mistreatment of captive killer whales.