Sun newspaper criticised for “comedy” reporting of animal abuse in UK zoo

By Captive Animals Protection Society

Sun-SealionAn article in the Sun newspaper today reports on the alleged abuse of a sea lion by a keeper at Bristol Zoo. The story states that the zoo keeper “lashed out” at the animal as the sea lion “refused to cooperate” with attempts by staff to weigh him. The member of staff has apparently been suspended in lieu of an investigation.

Whilst covering the bare bones of the serious incident, the newspaper chose to add a comical slant to its article, including a photo of a sea lion covering his face with a flipper with a speech bubble saying “That flippin’ hurt”. The article’s headline pronounces “Zoo worker KO’s beast at weigh-in” and at the bottom of the article, a graphic compares the fighting prowess of a sea lion to that of the boxing world champion, Wladimir Klitschko. CAPS has submitted a formal complaint over the article.

Said CAPS Director, Liz Tyson:
“The mistreatment of animals can all-too-often be normalised in our society and we regularly see newspapers reporting “cute” or “funny” stories about animals in which the individual animal’s welfare may be compromised. I must say, though, I have never read a news report which takes a clear example of animal abuse, and a potential breach of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and twists it into an attempt to gain cheap laughs from its readership. A person punching, hitting or otherwise attacking an animal is never funny. I am surprised and saddened that a newspaper like the Sun, which has strongly supported animal protection campaigns in the past, has chosen to highlight a serious incident in this thoughtless manner”.

CAPS will be following the story and the investigation into the alleged incident at Bristol Zoo.

The article finishes by highlighting that sea lions are popular in zoos because they can be taught to perform tricks.

Ms Tyson added: “In its defence, the article does make the point that zoos still subject animals like sea lions to circus-style performances in order to bring in paying visitors. Regardless of your view on captivity more generally, this sits uncomfortably considering the strong support to bring an end to degrading wild animal performances in circuses”.

Liz has blogged about the portrayal of animals in the media in the past. CAPS is currently considering ways in which to encourage the media industry to ensure that its reporting does not have a negative effect on animals.

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