Saturday, February 7, 2015

Goldfish Enrichment and Wildlife Rehabilitation

As a Virginia resident, I follow the "wildlife"1 rehabilitation efforts of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, efforts which often entail heartwarming stories about bear cub rescues (something I've always found ironic, as it is completely legal to shoot and kill bears in my state). There is also a lot of focus on saving eagles, and the Center's social media site often posts links to webcam feeds of animals healing and playing in their enclosures or inspiring videos of eagle releases. Today they posted a video of "fish enrichment" for eagles on the mend.

In the video, we see a crude plastic pool imprisoning several fishes2 with no filter, no pebbles, no air pump, and no plants or hiding places. The fishes seem to be treated as though they have no interests and they exist solely for the eagle to jump on, harass, terrify, and kill. The Wildlife Center posted the video as a cute update on the rehabilitation status of Buddy the eagle, but all I could see was the cruel and tortured existence of the goldfishes who have been completely objectified for the Virginian fetishization of eagles. Indeed, no commentator to date has expressed any unease with the well-being of the fishes on Facebook or YouTube. Viewers simply see this video as "cute" and entertaining.

It should go without saying, but the goldfish industry is one that imposes great amounts of suffering on fishes, and goldfishes are a highly sensitive animal who easily succumb to inferior habitats, water that has not been treated, and stressful conditions.

Like bears and eagles, goldfishes are sentient and social animals.

"Wildlife" rehabilitation reinforces the notion that some animals (usually charismatic megafauna) are more important than other animals (like goldfishes and the animals we kill for food, clothes, sport, and entertainment).  I've also seen the Wildlife Center asking Virginia "hunters" to please switch to non-lead ammunition, so that scavengers will not be poisoned by ingesting the corpses of deers, turkeys, and other animals who matter less. The notion that "hunting"3 might be a problem in itself is never addressed. Our thinking about other animals is quite compartmentalized. Compartmentalization helps us to reconcile our inherent empathy for other animals with our existence in a society that systemically exploits Nonhuman Animals for our benefit.

What's to be done with animals like eagles that need to consume the corpses of other animals to survive? I believe there are alternatives that can be explored. Goldfish "enrichment," however, is most certainly not a requirement for eagle rehabilitation and cannot be morally justified.

1. "Wildlife" is an objectifying pejorative best replaced with "free-living animals."
2. I avoid mass terms like "deer" or "turkey," which work to deindividualize some species.
3. "Hunting" is a euphemism for systemic violence against Nonhuman Animals.

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