Indonesian travelling shows where dolphins perform in the name of education
JAKARTA: Brama and Kumbara swim side by side in their little home, a murky plastic pool full of chlorinated water. The two bottlenose dolphins seem agitated ahead of the show in which they are a headline act; it involves performing the same maneuvers they have done thousands of times.
For animal advocates, the practice is among the worst forms of cruelty and exploitation. Years of constant confinement, food deprivation and loud noise during the show are believed to harm both their physical and mental health, resulting in stress, aggression and premature death.
Whenever the troop relocates, dolphins are put on stretchers and confined in a tank for 10-20 hours. Most of them are transported from city to city in the back of a truck, where other show animals such as sun bears, otters and cockatoos are locked up in small cages.
“The staff will put butter or Vaseline cream on the dolphin’s skin to keep it moist because it’s dry transport,” said Femke Den Haas, a founder of the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), who has been working with wildlife for more than 20 years.
“Dolphins are highly intelligent, social and acoustic animals. They use their sonar to navigate in the ocean. But when they’re trapped in a small pool, their sound constantly bounces back at them. And they go crazy. It’s like we live in a room full of mirrors and all you see is yourself all the time. You’d go mental.
“What’s happening to dolphins in Indonesia is extremely, extremely cruel.”
But for the government, it is not. Travelling dolphin shows are considered an effective conservation tool that educates people about threatened animals through entertainment. As long as their health needs are met, the show can go on.
“Travelling dolphin shows exist to raise people’s awareness on saving them from extinction. The animals face a lot of problems in the wild. Many of them have been killed or caught by fishermen. So we have to save and rescue them.”
These are words from Mr Bambang Dahono Adji, director of Indonesia’s Biodiversity Conservation Directorate of the Environment and Forestry Ministry. His unit is responsible for issuing the conservation permits which allow the private sector to keep wild dolphins outside their natural habitat for conservation. It also recognises the legality of travelling wildlife shows.
“People’s understanding about dolphins is minimal. But if they see the performance, they’d think ‘Oh! Dolphins are like this! Oh! They cannot be killed! These animals must be protected!’. So I allow it because it’s part of the efforts to raise public awareness,” Mr Adji explained.
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