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March 2nd, 2010
06:53 PM ET

The case for captive animals

Animals in zoos, aquariums and museums, such as SeaWorld, play an important and powerful part in our cultural and formal educational processes, according to John Nightingale.

Animals in zoos, aquariums and museums, such as SeaWorld, play an important and powerful part in our cultural and formal educational processes, according to John Nightingale.

John Nightingale
Special to CNN

The tragic death of a trainer at Sea World last week revived a number of long simmering questions. While we still grapple with "how did this happen?" the central question for many revolves around the role of large mammals - like Tilikum the killer whale - in zoos and aquariums: Should they be there or not?

Animals in zoos, aquariums and museums play an important and powerful part in our cultural and formal educational processes. Humans are inherently interested in nature. We are not very far removed from a time when being knowledgeable about nature was vital to life; you either knew how to find your dinner or you were dinner.

Today, with well over 50 percent of our populations living in cities, we are rapidly becoming divorced from the realities of the animal world. The dialogue we see in the media, read on blogs and hear in conversation makes it clear that many people have lots of ideas about what's happening in our natural world, much of it not correct.

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