Groupon Profits From Wild Animal Exploitation
As a tourist, an up-close interaction with rare and exotic animals may sound like an exciting adventure — even for those who support wild animal protection. It feels good to fund animal rescue groups that tout themselves as providing wild animal rehabilitation, sanctuary, or retirement for animals as their last chance of survival. But what if you found out it was all a hoax? A money-maker only interested in profit?
Some accredited sanctuaries are legitimate safe havens for wild animals. Unfortunately, many others are not, despite what they look like. Who would question a name like Zoological Wildlife Foundation? Luckily, World Animal Protection did look into many of these facilities and how they benefit from the support of Groupon. They recently released a report on their findings.
Groupon is an e-commerce company that offers discounts on activities, travel, and services with over a million partnering companies worldwide. Some of these companies include roadside zoos, pseudo-sanctuaries, and marine amusement parks in the U.S. that have recurring reports of animal neglect and cruelty. Sadly, Groupon overlooks these cruel track records and instead helps them profit from the exploitation and animal suffering they cause.
In the report, investigators highlight eight problematic venues that Groupon has promoted in the last five years. These companies offer a variety of experiences such as feeding, holding, bathing, swimming with, grooming, and taking selfies with wild animals. They are located across the U.S., from Virginia to Washington state. Many different species are found at these attractions, such as elephants, whales, non-human primates, and alligators. All sites have devastating reports of animal suffering and most have multiple charges of violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the federal legislation meant to protect the animals in their care.
The AWA is one of the few U.S. federal laws that protects animals by mandating minimal standards of care. The enforcement is carried out by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This agency, however, lacks the funding to thoroughly inspect all roadside zoos and marine parks. In fact, USDA inspectors are told to treat these exhibitions more like partners rather than potential offenders. Therefore, it takes a lot of whistleblowing and grievances to receive a violation from the USDA. The data collected in this report came from USDA inspection reports, lawsuits led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and former employees and visitors sharing accounts of animal neglect and abuse they witnessed.
Inadequate medical care, record-keeping, housing, enrichment, sanitation, and handling were common across all eight facilities. Most had reports of animal injuries and deaths with few records of veterinary oversight. The housing and animal facilities caused many problems, such as an octopus burning to death in a tank at SeaQuest, an aquarium chain located inside malls in ten different states.
The lack of enrichment within these facilities has a negative impact on animals’ psychological well-being. For example, at least one orca in Miami SeaQuarium died from intentional, self-inflicted harm caused from living in a small tank. Miami SeaQuarium also has high levels of chlorine and parasites in its tanks, which has made the manatees and dolphins ill. Some examples of poor animal handling include alligators getting their mouths taped shut and dragged by staff for public interactions at the Everglades Outpost Wildlife Rescue. At the Endangered Ark Foundation, bullhooks are regularly used on elephants. It’s clear that the well-being of these animals is grossly overlooked and the venues displaying them are far from being a sanctuary.
Public safety is also compromised in these up-close wild animal experiences. This was apparent when a tiger bit off a man’s thumb at the Zoological Wildlife Foundation in Miami, Florida. Onestaff member associated with the Endangered Arc Foundation was crushed to death by two elephants named Rosie and Opal. These attractions give the false impression that wild animals can become comfortable with people, whereas most live in fear and distress due to the reoccurring human exposure they have no choice but to endure. Hence, most tiger petting experiences only offer cubs up to the age of three months. Where do these animals come from if they’re not “rescued,” and where do they go when they’re too big to be cuddled with?
Many of the companies in the report source their animals from illegal traffickers, such as the infamous Doc Antle of the “Tiger King.” Some are bred within the site itself. And some are tragically captured from their own habitat. For example, Tokitae the orca was captured in the Pacific Northwest waters and used for performance for over fifty years at the Miami Seaquarium. The Endangered Ark Foundation in Oklahoma continues to breed elephants despite the scientific knowledge that this species cannot thrive in captivity. And baby tiger cubs who get too old for handling are typically killed or sold.
As dreadful as this all sounds, there is an opportunity for change. World Animal Protection has launched a pressure campaign urging Groupon to enact an animal welfare policy that would stop the promotion of these fake animal rescues. In addition to supporting this corporate campaign, animal advocates can also show consumers why they should avoid exploitative, harmful wild animal facilities. By working with Groupon and going directly to consumers, advocates can help change the fate of these animals in the future.