Newswise — Chris Palmer, a longtime wildlife filmmaker and director of American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking, is available to discuss whether large wild animals—especially predators—should be kept in captivity.

Debate surrounding the subject has been reignited in the wake of the tragic, accidental death of a whale trainer at SeaWorld after a 12,300 pound orca grabbed her and held her underwater on Wednesday, February 24. Palmer, who authored an opinion column for about the issue, says that large wild animals should only be held in captivity if the alternative—releasing them into the wild—would lead to the animal’s premature death.

“People forget that these animals are not tame, even though they interact closely with humans on a daily basis,” he says. “The tragic accident at the Florida marine park shows that we need to thoroughly rethink our attitude towards keeping wild animals in captivity.”

Palmer also says theme parks and sensationalist wildlife entertainment like films and shows broadcast on cable are largely to blame for the public’s warped perspective of nature and wildlife.

“Audiences see personalities on shows approaching and handling wild animals as if they are not at all threatening,” Palmer says. “Most of the time, audiences do not see these entertainers getting seriously hurt. So on the inevitable occasions when these entertainers are critically or fatally injured, the audience is shocked.”

Palmer more deeply explores the wildlife filmmaking and entertainment industry in his forthcoming book Shooting in the Wild: An Insider's Account of Making Films in the Animal Kingdom (Sierra Club Books, Spring 2010). In the book, Palmer blows the whistle on himself and fellow filmmakers, revealing secrets of wildlife documentary filmmaking that have been kept from audiences for decades.

"There is a dark side to wildlife entertainment,” Palmer says. “Many shows and films are made with captive animals although this information is not told to audiences. In addition, much harassment and abuse occurs to get animals to do what directors want them to do, when they want them to do it.”

Palmer, who admits he used captive animals in his past productions, says most filmmakers are interested primarily in producing films that focus on the most sensational wild animal behavior—mating, hunting, and killing or being killed—simply because it sells.

“These films excite audiences and allow them a connection to nature—something increasingly missing in modern life—from the safety and comfort of their living rooms,” Palmer said. “It’s no wonder these productions net high ratings and impressive network profits.”

Palmer is a distinguished film producer in residence in American University's School of Communication. During his filmmaking career, he has swum with dolphins and whales, confronted sharks, come face to face with Kodiak bears, camped with wolf packs, and waded hip-deep through an Everglades swamp. His films have been broadcast on the Disney Channel, TBS Superstation, Animal Planet, Home and Garden Television, the Travel Channel, the Outdoor Life Network, the Public Broadcasting System, and in IMAX theatres. His IMAX films include Whales, Wolves, Dolphins, Bears, India: Kingdom of the Tiger, and Coral Reef Adventure.

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