The focus of this article and the series that it is a part of will not focus on this matter at all. Instead, it will put a focus on women of color as members of the zoo and aquarium community whose stories, in the light of recent events, should be shared for the world to know and appreciate the experience of people of color who continue to carry on in both good times and in times of uncertainty.
Melanie Langlotz, a New Zealand-based tech entrepreneur and vegan helped her Chinese business partner build a lifelike, but creepy looking robotic bottlenose dolphin puppet after they were asked to build a suitable habitat for an aquarium that would house live cetaceans. The puppet, which has a 10-hour battery life and can last in saltwater for a decade, attracted the attention of theme park operators about possible mass production of the puppets after hearing a word about it from volunteers who swam with it. They claim that they were unaware that they were swimming with the puppet, which is a prototype by the way, until they were told the truth.
On May 13th, 2020, Mundo Marino, a marine mammal facility based in Argentina, posted a short video that featured a training session between Kshamenk, the park’s only killer whale under its care, and one of his trainers. In the video, the trainer, who is wearing a mask, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, is seen performing a routine play session where she gives him all the love and attention that any SeaWorld animal gets while the trainer talks affectionately to him in Spanish and he seems to enjoy the company of his human pod mate. However, that did not stop Laurice Dee’s army of vegan extremists from sending the trainer death threats over her working with Kshamenk; once “Boycott SeaWorld” admin Britney Hernandez got a hold of the video, the violent spams from animal rights extremists assures. If you read the comments, they accuse this trainer of being an “animal abuser”, a “scum”, and so on. One person even wished for the trainer to lose her arm during a session.
Six weeks in its closure, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vancouver Aquarium is financially struggling to care for its sea otters, seals, sea lions, and other animals that call the 64-year-old facility home. The closure did not just mean a loss of revenue of about $3 million a month but also, a loss of about 2,00 visitors who patronize the aquarium each day through animal encounters, admission, behind-the-scene tours, and symbolic animal adoptions.
While the COVID-19 Pandemic has forced many zoos and aquariums to stay closed to the public until it is contained, many animal care professionals continue to care for the animals that call these facilities “home”. They often update people on how the animals are doing, share some facts about their natural history, and even demonstrating how they care for them through husbandry and training sessions. While many are praising these people as “heroes” to both people and animals alike, there are some who don’t see it like that at all.