A top French theme park may have been hoping that they could quietly euthanise one of their dolphins instead of giving it the chance of freedom, but they had reckoned without the campaigning work of a rapidly expanding French NGO.
One Voice, which founder Muriel Arnal created based on practices she saw when she was living in the USA, was the first in line to reveal what was going on after already doing campaigning work to end the practice of using sea mammals in aquariums for entertainment.
Parc Asterix, the theme park in France where dolphin Femke was located, had claimed she was too sick to travel but that was challenged by the campaigning NGO, who said managers only did what was “convenient” for them in terms of “publicity”.
But exposing PR on behalf of those seeking to abuse animal rights is exactly what One Voice was founded for, and Arnal, who is fluent in English because she used to live in the United States, explained in a candid interview with Real Press that their campaigning work on behalf of Femke and the other dolphins was just one of many battles that they had fought and continue to fight over the years.
For Arnal It is not just a job, it is her calling and she feels very deeply the suffering of the animals that she fights for.
In the case of the elderly Dolphin, she lamented that Femke had spent most of her 39 years of life in captivity and that she had suffered needlessly, especially after her baby Ekinox was taken from her.
Speaking about the work that One Voice does, Arnal said that she founded the organisation after returning to France from the US and that it was geared towards campaigning for animal rights, to help protect the environment, and essential to protect “every living creature on the planet”.
Arnal, 55, explained that after obtaining her MBA in the US, she applied some of the lessons she learned from the Americans across the pond to One Voice, saying: “In the US, people are extremely dedicated. They are used to taking matters into their own hands.
“That is something that is not as easy for the French. And when I started One Voice, because I lived in the US, I started teaching our members to do things themselves.
“We would help them. We would train them. But they would become actors, true citizens, and that came from the culture in the US. And I think that the people in the US defending animals, defending the environment and defending biodiversity, are very, very brave.”
She said that she wanted to do something to help animals ever since she was a young girl, when she met an elephant in a circus wagon a few kilometres from her house. Every day, she went to feed the elephant. That is when she decided to dedicate her life to the voiceless: animals.
She founded One Voice 25 years ago. She met famous French naturalist Theodore Monod, who inspired her to act on her convictions, as did the work of the famous American primatologist Dian Fossey.
However, when it comes to Femke, they were unable to help her despite their best efforts.
Arnal told Real Press that she has now been “killed” after having been caught off the coast of Florida and spending 24 years in captivity in the Netherlands before being sent to France in 2008.
Parc Asterix, a theme park based on the famous comic book series by Albert Uderzo and Rene Goscinny, is France’s second biggest park after Disneyland Paris. It has systematically denied that the dolphin was depressed, arguing instead that all her symptoms were linked to her suffering from Cushing disease, which occurs when the body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol.
In a statement, the theme park said: “While we prepared everything for her transfer to a French dolphinarium to minimise the transport time and therefore the risks, we were forced to make the sad and very difficult choice to relieve Femke of her suffering.”
While One Voice, which currently has “19,000 supporters and many more followers”, do not deny that she was suffering from this disease, they also said her condition was exacerbated by being torn away from her baby.
Arnal said “she was very sick, but what made her even sicker was her separation from her son Ekinox, he was sent to another park in Greece when he was just 6, which is very early for a dolphin”, adding that the theme park’s statement smacks of hypocrisy.
She said that it was ironic that it was now that they were concerned about the dolphin’s wellbeing and that they had supposedly euthanised her to put an end to suffering when in fact she had been suffering almost her entire life, living in captivity, separated from her child, denied her freedom.
She slammed their statement, calling it “appalling”, adding that the park “had done nothing for Femke for years and years, neither the park nor the authorities, and now they decide to kill her because it’s more convenient.
“If her suffering was so great, which we believe it was, she should have been euthanised earlier or there should have been a solution for her, a medical solution.”
Arnal explained that after Ekinox was taken from her, and as can be seen in this footage, “she remained lying, and not moving in the tank, even during the shows. The shows would go on around her, dolphins and sea lions would jump about, and she wouldn’t move, and she would be facing the wall. That was very difficult to see, because everybody could see how much she suffered.”
Arnal said One Voice is entirely funded through donations so it can remain independent. Another animal rights organisation, the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, maintained in 2018 that Femke had become ill shortly after her baby was taken from her.
A 2018 petition to have Femke reunited with Ekinox and moved to a sanctuary for marine animals, co-signed by One Voice and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, attracted 149,383 signatures.
While there is currently a protected marine wildlife sanctuary for dolphins “in Asia” where they could have a lot more space and learn to feed themselves again, no such sanctuary exists in Europe or in the United States.
Arnal explained that one had recently been set up in Iceland for two beluga whales and that the director of the Baltimore zoo in Maryland, in the US was exploring ways of creating a similar setup for the zoo’s dolphins. She added that while “One Voice operates mostly in France”, it also “cooperates with partners around the globe to help animals in distress.”
Expanding on the international efforts that the organisation makes, she said: “One Voice supported the first missions of Ric O’Barry in Taiji who was a consultant for us at the time, and more recently the scientists going to Russia to release the belugas and orcas. Also, our NGO campaigns for Southern Resident Orcas in the Pacific, between Washington State and Canada. We also help friends of ours in Congo, in Virunga Park, where the mountains gorillas live.
“One Voice also supports the centre for the conservation of chimpanzees in Guinea. Some of the investigations One Voice led were in Asia.
“Last but not least, One Voice took part in the ending of dancing bears in India. Furthermore, One Voice takes part in several international coalitions.”
The move by the French park to kill Femke and ship all its other dolphins to various aquariums in Europe is part of the process of shutting down their dolphinarium after NGOs successfully lobbied the government and last year the authorities effectively banned keeping marine wildlife in captivity.
Arnal explained that people no longer want to see killer whales, dolphins or sea lions forced to perform tricks and held in tiny tanks.
She said that if there is no longer a demand from the general public for this sort of spectacle, then theme parks will stop keeping animals that should be in the wild.
She added: “It’s almost impossible for animals born in captivity to learn how to survive in the wild. That’s why we fight for the prohibition of the breeding in captivity: animals have to be protected in their natural habitat.
“Their only hope is to be sent to sanctuaries, where they can feel free, where humans don’t watch them all day long, yell near them, or hurt them.”
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