What I like about documentaries is that they facilitate social change while shedding light on topics that otherwise could’ve gone unseen. Recently at work, someone mentioned how The Elephant In The Living Room had truly affected them. I was aware of the film, but like many others, it had gotten buried in my Netflix queue. This weekend, I finally gave the film the attention it deserves.
The Elephant In The Living Room is a documentary that shows the complications and ramifications of regular people owning exotic pets. I vaguely knew there were people, mostly in Las Vegas I imagined, that owned tigers or monkeys or the occasional boa constrictor. However, I had no idea how widespread the problem was until I saw this documentary. It’s not just Las Vegas residents or wealthy people owning these wild animals as pets, it’s regular people like the guy next door or your co-worker or your kid’s science teacher. You never know.
I always had pets as a kid. We had cats and dogs and little “garden” snakes and newts and fish and turtles. Then, there was the chinchilla and the hamsters and a brief period where we had a few ducks that lived in a play pen in our garage. When I was in kindergarten, I even had a pet fruit bat for a couple weeks. Don’t ask. Anyhow, I understand the connection people can have toward their pets. How pets can truly become members of the family. I get that. However, none of our pets ever posed a threat to our neighbors. We didn’t have venomous snakes slithering around or a jaguar traipsing around our backyard.
“The Elephant…” presents the vast array of problems that arise when people bring wild animals into their homes as pets. Ironically, my viewing of the documentary coincided with an article in this month’s National Geographic (April 2014) entitled, “Wild Obsession: The perilous attraction of owning exotic pets.” It’s mind boggling to me that you need to license your dog, but in several U.S.
States, there is no license or permit required to own, say, an African lion or a spider monkey. What?
The Elephant In The Living Room presents not only the question of safety in owning exotic pets, but also the dangers it can have on the animals overall well-being. Even in witnessing how much someone loves their chimp or tiger, I’d somehow feel that the very act of owning such an animal is selfish in many ways. Lions should be with their own kind, their pride. ” Doing what lions do…” as a guy in the documentary says.
Of course, there’s an allure to owning an exotic pet, but it’s also cruel to take wild animals from their natural habitat, the wild. And until I saw this documentary, I had no idea how easy it actually is to obtain an exotic pet. You can nab a tiger cub from a newspaper ad. You can purchase one of the most deadly African snakes at a local reptile show. You can buy your toddler his very own baby alligator. It’s insane!
As Adam Roberts of Born Free USA states in the National Geographic article, “When we keep wild animals as pets, we turn them into something for which nature has no place.”
Even for the most responsible exotic pet owner, I think that is something to ponder.