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Why Artificial Animals Can Never Replace In-Person Encounters

When news about a vegan tech entrepreneur building a robotic dolphin puppet goes viral, extremists insist that it may “overhaul” the entire zoo community along with other “alternatives”.

By Jenna DeedyPublished 4 years ago 5 min read
Orca Puppet Encounters: Coming Soon? (Screenshot is an image from "The Free Willy" Series of films by Warner Brothers)

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.

For animal rights extremists, they see this puppet as the ultimate “alternative” to interactions with live marine mammals since they constantly make claims, many of which are false, about modern, well-managed zoos and aquariums that display dolphins and other marine mammals. They claim that if puppets were made years ago, live cetaceans would have not have been collected for research and public display.

While these puppets could be used for training purposes such as training people on how to perform rescues or veterinary care-related situations, they can never be able to replace in-person encounters with live animals.

While there is no arguing that technology has evolved how we can engage and experience the world as a whole, it does have its limits when we decide to put them into full practice. For example, anti-zoo extremists insist that robotic puppets, HD television, and virtual reality are gripping “replacements” for experiences with real, living, breathing animals. Examples of these “alternatives” being used by activists in public can include PETA’s Ellie, a free-moving elephant puppet that has the voice of actress Priyanka Chopra attempts to convince kids to not visit zoos and circuses that care for and house live elephants, and the equally questionable I, Orca”, an animated virtual reality short that features a mother orca voiced by Nurse Jackie’s Edie Falco. While they serve as nice supplements, they can’t act as replacements for physically connecting with live animals and experiencing nature.

Speaking of virtual reality while I remain on the subject of it, there are a few risks with it when it is put to use. For example, when a person is wearing an entire headset, they are completely blind to the world around them and don’t rely on chaperone systems to keep the user protected. These risks may include accidental falling or becoming seriously injured as a result of tripping, blows to the head, or even breaking a limb. There is also a risk of people developing eye problems, motion sicknes, cardiac arrest, and seizures as a result of using virtual reality. Meanwhile, children under the age of 12 are more likely to develop fear and anxiety as a result of “experiencing” life-like animations that may often contain content that might be too scary, or violent for young users. Such content can result in young children to experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

While it can easily be argued that people don’t need to see live dinosaurs to know more about them, this is a little far-fetched when you think about it. For example, dinosaurs have been extinct for 65 million years and all that we know on them and other pre-Holocene era animals is through the discovery of their fossilized remains; however, while fossils can give us an idea on what extinct animals might have looked like in life, how they might have behaved is based more on a series of hypothesis based on the limited fossilized remains that do depict what their lives were like when they were alive.

In the case of live animals, learning about them in a zoological setting can give people the chance to learn, study, understand and help preserve a species that might be endangered of extinction due to poaching, habitat loss, and the effects of climate change. After all, we do live in a world where because of centuries of human activity, there is almost little-to-no wild left for troubled wild populations to be able to thrive and recover to pre-colonization numbers. Yet, there is still time to not only preserve the animals that have been effected by such declines, but also, put focus on preserving the wild that is still out there, in danger of being lost forever and in need of being preserved to help troubled ecosystems survive.

In addition to seeing live animals at zoological parks, meeting them in person, via, safe, supervised interaction programs where people to meet resident animals up-close in person, take part in a regular training session with them, and learn more about the species they are meeting for a fun, educational adventure that not only benefits the guests but also, the animals they would meet since most of the time, based on my personal experience of having to have once interned at a dolphin swim facility, the animals are the ones who get a lot of joy out of meeting new people, playing with them, and showing off for the fun of it. These interactions are a part of a healthy routine for animals that are constantly being kept enriched and stimulated throughout the day, which is something that activists don’t seem to understand at all.

While there is no arguing that something like a robotic puppet, or virtual reality are fun to have around and bring some brief moments of excitement and curiosity, they should not be used as long-term replacements for the experiences people gain more from encounters with live animals.

wild animals

About the Creator

Jenna Deedy

Zoo and Aquarium Professional, Educator, Cosplayer, Writer and B.A. in Psychology whose got a lot to share when it comes to animals, zoos, aquariums, conservation, and more.

Instagram: @jennacostadeedy

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