Lion cubs are undeniably cute. Unfortunately, there's a lot of denial that goes into the decision to adopt an animal that will grow into a 550-pound adult, which will instinctively seek to dominate his own pride. That's what lead to Lambert (pictured) escaping his Ohio owner's pen and running wild on a local highway. He was returned to a horse trailer, where he and female Lacy produced four cubs.
The Elephant in the Living Room is about the spike in ownership of exotic animals in the United States. It presents an amazing list of animals people try to keep as pets, including all sorts of big cats, highly poisonous snakes (African puff adders), armadillos, hyenas, chimpanzees and even an elephant (eventually taken from its owner because he could not adequately feed it). The film is full of news stories of exotic animal ownership gone awry, leaving stunned neighbors describing mountain lions running through their suburban neighborhoods and a 16-foot boa constrictor escaped into the walls of a home occupied by a woman confined to a wheelchair. The odd truth is that most states don't regulate ownership of exotic animals, and no-one knows how many tigers are owned as pets.
The main figure in the film is Tim Harrison, a public safety officer in Ohio who created Outreach for Animals, an organization dedicated to finding appropriate places for exotic animals abandoned, lost or rescued from abusive owners. He makes a very strong case that many people who own exotic animals are not capable of caring for them. The cameras follow him across the country to a Las Vegas animal auction and Florida, where he interviews police who have a python problem similar to Louisiana's nutria problem: abandoned pet pythons were released into an environment where they have no natural predators and they've reproduced so prolifically they can't be eradicated.
The film also spends a lot of time with Terry Brumfield, Lambert's owner, who was able to overcome chronic depression and health problems partially because of his love for the lion. He clearly loves the animal, but it doesn't justify Lambert's treatment. The film wades into the conflict between individuals who assert a right to own animals and communities concerned about risks posed by large predators, but it is most concerned with the well-being of the animals caught in the middle. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello
The Elephant in the Living Room
9:30 p.m. Friday-Thursday
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net