Posted by: conradvisionquest | April 14, 2010

Movies, Cheetahs, and Betty White

I think Netflix recommended Duma to me (thank you Netflix!).  After we watched it we wondered why we had never heard of it before. Called “the best film of 2005” by the LA times, this live action movie is about a South African boy and his new cheetah friend, Duma.

From the website:

Set in the exotic country of South Africa, Duma tells the powerful adventure tale of an unbreakable bond of friendship between a cheetah named Duma and a courageous young boy named Xan (ALEXANDER MICHALETOS). Xan faces the true test of love when he must cross the wilds of Southern Africa to return his best friend to his rightful home.

From the director of “The Black Stallion” and “Flyaway Home,” this is a fantastic movie to watch with the entire family.  In my case, that means my husband and two dogs.  Elsie gave it 2 paws up and Camille mostly slept through it.  Husband gave it 4 out of 4 stars. Of course, I was a teary mess at the end, but it passed my “good movie” test.  If I am still thinking about the movie the next day, then it was good.  This morning in the shower, I was still thinking of Duma the cheetah.

After I wrote this review I wondered, is this movie vegan? I tried to find out any information about the cheetah(s) that played the title role and what their care was like, but I didn’t discover much. The only thing I found was something that said one of the four cheetahs was kept at a “reserve” in Africa and people could go visit and even touch him or her.

I’m definitely not a fan of the circus, and I really haven’t decided how I feel about zoos. In a recent interview with Betty White on the Larry King show, she had this to say in response to the recent whale trainer death…

I’ve also worked with the Los Angeles Zoo for 46 years. Of course, for that individual whale — and I’m going to get in trouble for this — of course, I would love to have him swimming free. But the only way we can make the public aware of animals, what they are — you can read about them, you can see them on film forever. But unless you come to the zoo and see and smell and — and touch the real animal, you don’t know that elephants are in trouble. You don’t know why they’re in trouble.

When asked if zoo animals were paying a price to educate the public, she continued…

But they’re not paying a price. They’re getting such tender loving care and safety and all that. But it’s not freedom. And it’s so easy for the outside people to say, oh, but they should all be let free.  What we’re doing to their environment and what we’re — we’re taking away their environment, there’s — pretty soon there’s not going to be any place to set them free.

What she said made sense, but I still haven’t formed a concrete opinion about this.  What do you think? 

I think the message of Duma the movie was this: what’s best for the animals isn’t always what’s best for us and that wild animals belong in the wild.  But were these cheetahs exploited to bring us that message?  I couldn’t find the answers to that.

I would love to hear your opinions.  How do you feel about animals in captivity?  Am I overthinking Duma the movie?  Share your thoughts below!



  1. Crap – I just left a long reply with a bunch of links and it disappeared! I don’t have time to look everything up again, but in a nutshell, it is my belief that zoos, and even some sanctuaries, are in the same camp as circuses. Zoos exploit animals for entertainment and profit. Does someone need to see a starving child or person suffering from a terminal illness in order to feel compassion for them? NO. I am sure that many people who work at zoos – especially those who work directly with animals – mean well. But profit margins and pleasing the public are what drive decisions at a zoo, not concern for the animals.

  2. In case my starving child comment didn’t make sense, it was a rebuttal to Betty White’s statement that you have to “come to the zoo and see and smell and — and touch the real animal” in order to understand that they are in trouble.

    • thanks for those thoughtful comments. i agree that is isn’t necessary for people to see the animals in real life to comprehend their plight, but i think what Betty is saying is that it really brings the issue to life, so you can’t really ignore it when it’s right in front of you. However, I see what your saying as well. I am sure all zoos are not created equal, and though some may have good intentions their execution may be all wrong.

    • i found your original comment… it was in the spam folder for some reason, without links. so i just deleted it since it would just be repeating what was already said. weird.

  3. I’m unsure of this…the more and more I read about these:
    the more and more I can’t support them.
    Most zoo’s offer shows, where they put the animal on display, making them do human acts for the profit and amusement of humans.
    It’s one thing to see animals in their natural habitat…it’s another to watch them enact a show where they do things that are unnatural to the animal.

    • yes, this is where the “all zoos aren’t created equal” thing comes in. i totally agree. i think exhibiting animals in a natural habitat for education and to bring light to their specific issues is one thing, but having them perform “tricks” for our amusement is something entirely different and not acceptable as far as i’m concerned. it’s uncomfortable to watch.
      thanks for the link!

  4. This is a tough topic for me because I agree with both sides of the argument. Do I think that there are zoos out there that exploit the animals for money and entertainment? Absolutely. And do I think that zoos, when adhering to strict guidelines, are a great way to educate the public about the issues surrounding animals and their habitats? Yes.

    As far as the zoos that do exploit the animals, I put them in the same category as circuses and any kinds of Vegas-style entertainment that use animals solely for their benefit. They should be banned, no question.

    As far as the zoos that do focus on education, I think they can play a vital role in promoting animal welfare. We live in a very forgetful society, and a society that adheres to the whole “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy. That’s why I agree with what Betty White says about people needing to see the animals in person to understand or begin to understand their suffering. Now, the people that are replying on here don’t need to be reminded, but the general public does.

    But I do think we need stricter guidelines about zoo habitats, and I do think that zoos need to be more direct with their audiences about the realities of these animals’ habitats and populations in the real world. I’d like to see them get rid of the cotton candy and the train rides, and really put money into classroom-style education.

    • YES YES YES! what a well written response! you have articulated what i couldn’t. thanks, amanda!

  5. Thank you for your kind comment. The first on my vegan blog. I love your site. Very well done!

    • thanks for the kind words and for stopping by, phil!

  6. There is a “zoo” about a mile from where we live, in the middle of Southern California’s hill country, bordering a large mountain range. It’s called CALM – California Living Museum. They specialize in taking in animals from the surrounding wilderness, that have been injured or wounded, and rehabilitating them. They currently have over 80 species of ‘medically unreleasable animals.’ CALM is supported entirely by community fundraisers and donations. Visitors to CALM can either purchase a day pass, or bring animal feed (1lb of peanut butter or 20lbs of dog/cat food) in exchange for a day pass. I have loved CALM since I first heard of it. I think it is a model example of what a zoo aught to be: a place where sick or wounded animals OF THE REGION are rehabilitated and given sanctuary.

    I don’t care if I never personally see an elephant or a zebra. I don’t think they belong in Los Angeles or New York, no matter what their condition is. If we’re so concerned with rehabilitating animals, or safeguarding them from the environment, then we should fund zoos that are in these animals’ native lands. Otherwise, aren’t we truly dishonoring these creatures? It breaks my heart (it always has) to stare at majestic elephants, or whales, trapped in a tight enclosure or tank, in the heart of LA or San Diego. It really makes me sick. And making whales do tricks for a stadium full of theme park attendees is repugnant. Why do these places pretend to be havens for these wild animals? They are not. I think the problem is, there are a lot of kind-hearted people who are misguided, like Betty White.

    Thanks for another cool post, Wendy. 🙂

    • that sounds like a cool place, sosae! however, i think to call them a “zoo” is an insult. it sounds like they are the antithesis of what zoos are and what we think them to be. and i agree, my heart always breaks, too, when i see whales being “trained” at sea world or think of elephants being ridden for money at the zoo. i’m sure it’s not the life these animals would choose, had they been given the choice.
      as always, thank you for your thoughtful comments!

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