Liberation from the animals' point of view by Linda Greene l
Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden
History of Animal Resistance is a book about the power struggle between
humans and nonhuman animals in captivity. Only when humans succeed in
dominating the animals totally - sometimes by killing them -- does this
But according to Jason Hribal, author of the book, the
animals fight back.
'[T]hrough my research,' Hribal writes, 'the
resistance became ever more evident. Captive animals escaped their cages.
They attacked their keepers. They refused to perform. They refused to
reproduce. The resistance itself could be organized.'
What makes Fear
of the Animal Planet unique is that, in the words of Jeffrey St. Clair's
Introduction, a history of humans' oppression of nonhuman animals, it 'tells
the story of liberation from the animals' points-of-view.'
are used to viewing nonhuman animals performing tricks and on display as
cute and entertaining in circuses, zoos and aquariums. But, Hribal argues,
they're exploited workers, overworked and abused for the greatest profits of
their human owners.
Jason Hribal: Fear of the Animal Planet: The
Hidden History of Animal Resistance. Petrolia and Oakland, Cal.,
CounterPunch and AK Press, 2010, 162 pp., $15.95
The animals are treated as
money-making commodities instead of the autonomous beings they are. Humans
force them to perform difficult, repetitive maneuvers time and again. They
live under inhumane conditions, their needs neglected and they are often
punished with solitary confinement even though they're social creatures.
Humans, Hribal says, capture the animals through trickery and violence
in their natural environments and ship them elsewhere to be trained as
performers or be displayed to the public. The training is punitive, relying
for its success on deliberate pain and cruelty to the animals.
standard responses of animals' owners, trainers and keepers to escapes and
attacks on humans aims to cover up the power struggle behind them, Hribal
The first response by the keepers/owners/trainers is that
escapes and attacks on humans are rare events that don't merit
investigation. As Hribal's book shows, such resistance isn't rare.
animals are treated as money-making commodities instead of the autonomous
beings they are."
The second response is to 'deny agency.'
Supposedly, the incident was accidental, a lamentable but natural and
'instinctive' act by a 'wild'animal.' Hribal's research, however,
demonstrated that such incidents aren't isolated but the produce of
Whether the incident was an escape or attack,
the third response is to redesign the cages with ever greater security
Fourth is to 'manage public relations' by controlling
information about the incident. Upon questioning, a designated spokesperson
states repeatedly that the facility is an 'important resource for
conservation and education' and reassures the public that 'appropriate
changes have been implemented and that the park is safe for the return of
To escape, some animals perform extraordinary feats.
Little Joe, a 300-pound adolescent gorilla, braved a moat 12 feet deep and
12 feet wide plus an electrified fence to escape. Gorillas can't swim.
Not all resistance ends in violence by the animals, but it often ends in
violence against the animals.
Tatiana was a Siberian tiger caged in
the San Francisco Zoo who went on an apparently random rampage in 2007,
scaling a 12-foot wall, killing one person and injuring two others
critically. But it turns out Tatiana didn't attack just anyone. She was
careful to hunt down some teenage tormentors.
'Tatiana went directly
after the men who had been taunting her and ripped one of them to pieces,'
Hribal observes. 'The other two ran. For 20 minutes, Tatiana roamed the zoo
grounds. She was presented with many opportunities to attack park employees
and emergency responders. But Tatiana was singular in her purpose. She
wanted to find those two remaining teenagers, and she would do just that at
the Terrace Cafe.' Police shot her to death.
"They live under inhumane
conditions, their needs neglected and they are often punished with solitary
confinement even though they're social creature."
escapee travels not far from her cage, simply enjoying her new-found
Hribal argues that captive animals who, in human terms,
misbehave are actually resisting captivity. His evidence is incidents
gleaned from national and international newspapers, government documents,
lawsuits and online sources.
The book presents the evidence through
individual cases, focusing each chapter on a different species of animal --
large cats, monkeys, elephants and sea mammals. What makes the book
convincing is the sheer cumulative effect of the carefully documented
A fascinating but harrowing read, Fear of the Animal Planet
forces us to confront the ugly reality behind an illusion we're used to
taking for granted as reality. Shock and emotional discomfort inevitably
accompany such an experience of disillusionment.
To Hribal, captivity
is an unjust state, beginning with violence and maintained by violence, and
the animals rebel when they can.
'Wild' animals are aptly named and,
like nuclear power, are a force too great, complex and destructive for
humans to mess with. To cease holding 'wild' animals captive for any purpose
is the answer.
A note on the text. The book has an unusual amount of
mechanical errors, particularly near the end, which distract from the
reading experience. Words are missing, commas are misplaced, and one
sentence refers to 'solidarity confinement.' Before the next printing Fear
of the Animal Planet should receive the excellent copy editing and
proofreading it deserves. Linda Greene can be reached at