Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

From Predator to Trophy


Cecil the Lion

The world was in outrage when the dentist Walter Palmer killed the beautiful Zimbabwean lion Cecil, a case which Zimbabwe has just dropped. However, where did this ‘hobby’ of hunting and killing innocent animals for mere trophies originate?

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Colosseum in Ancient Rome

In Ancient Rome wild animals were captured and displayed to illustrate the power and capabilities of the Roman Empire. These animals were used at the Colosseum as either circus acts or warriors, where they were forced to fight to the death. Thousands of animals would be slaughtered each year in a series of ‘games’ at the Colosseum, which lead to the extinction and endangerment of several different animal species worldwide.

Most people today would consider these events barbaric and outrageous, yet what is the difference between watching the battles in an arena or hunting them in their natural habitats?

For centuries animals have been collected and displayed to promote power; the more exotic, the higher the status.


Actress Phyllis Gordon with her cheetah.

For example, kings and queens would keep pet lions on chains, often surrounding their thrones to inflict fear, or more recently actors and actresses have kept exotic pets such as cheetahs, as shown in the image to the right.

Now although people don’t walk the streets with pet cheetahs anymore, or watch animals fight in huge arenas, animals are still found in some circuses, such as Stardust Circus. In my previous blog, Life Behind Bars. Prison or Sanctuary?, I spoke about the different captivity conditions, the circus I believe to be one of the worst.


Giraffe in captivity at the circus

In the circus animals aren’t free to roam around, they are surrounded by an artificial environment where they are presented to the world as a fun, happy and amusing prop in a show, even though the animals are likely far from happy in the conditions in which they are kept.


Animal treatment and captivity conditions have come a long way from the whips and chains, in particular at zoos. Many zoos were originally established in the 18th and 19th centuries from royal collections of animals which the wealthy collected to show their power and increase their status, these collections were eventually opened to the public as a zoo. Back in the 18th and 19th century, zoos were often extremely cruel in terms of the conditions in which the animals were kept.


Old zoo conditions where the animals were kept in small cages

Animals were kept in small concrete prisons where they couldn’t interact with other animals, nor could they hardly move. Fortunately most zoos worldwide have evolved to the ‘modern zoo‘ conditions where their enclosures are designed to try and accommodate to the specific animal’s natural habitat, of which usually includes multiple animals in an enclosure to communicate and interact with.

Over the centuries the genetic diversity has been significantly impacted by the mistreatment of animals, but how far have we come? Have we learnt from history what’s right and wrong? I think it’s hard to say, in many ways we have realized our mistakes and changed the way we look at animals and treat them. Most people if they saw a lion in a small cage would be horrified and yet some people don’t seem to see the animal behind the fur, instead they see a prize.


About kirstyleemcnamara

I am currently in my third year at Deakin University, studying Zoology and Animal Science. I spent 3 weeks volunteering in South Africa.

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This entry was posted on May 7, 2016 by in Geelong - Friday 3pm.

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