Iris and Ivo, from Antwerp’s Zoo to Duisburg’s zoo

Iris and Ivo, from Antwerp’s Zoo to Duisburg’s zoo
Which future for the so-called
« old captive dolphins »

Iris slowly dying in her litlle corner... These last long 20 years of captivity were too much for her...


Iris died for
years of despair (March
but her son Ivo seems to be still alive in Duisburg.

Please sign the
international petition for Iris !

The two last Antwerp’s dolphins
The history of the  » Two Antwerp’s dolphins is quite ordinary : captured in 1981 in the Gulf of Mexico with some other members of their
family, Iris and Ivo survived 18 years in the criminally narrow basin of the Delphinarium of Antwerp Zoo.
At the time they were caught, Iris was living free since a dozen years in the ocean. Ivo, her son, was only one or two years old and it’s a real
miracle he was able to survive the very first years of his detention.

It’s indeed important to know that ALL the jail companions of Iris and Ivo
ended dying one after one after interminable anguishes. Dolly and Illas – the faithful companion of iris, undoubtedly coming from the original same
pod – were the last « dolphin founders  » to die near them around 1995-1996.
And then, one day, Iris and Ivo found themselves all alone in the middle of the cemetery-pool of

The Zoo had to take a decision.
Boredom started to slowly undermine them : they were briefly associated with some sealions during the shows, they perform some  » dolphin therapy
treatment » for autistic children or blind ones, but in vain: confined in this highly chlorinated water which burned them the eyes, Iris and Ivo did
not feel well and became weaker day after day…

The Antwerp Zoo opinion was to let them die there. Just wait, they said.
The problem will be resolved before long.

That was the rule in Antwerp : dolphins perform until
they die of weariness and boredom. It was a quick process, no one survive very
long in this pool.
Sometimes, as for Dolly who broke her back on the border of the pool during an
exercice, or in principle, as for Iris, useless and « too old », Zoo
could even carry out
euthanasia, declaring publicly that the dolphin died of old age.
Sometimes, some dolphins survived longer than
others. Then, they were shown as a proof that captivity provides good living conditions, even
though it’s more a proof of desperate adaptability !

vigorous but difficult campaign
, gathering many national and international
associations happily, prevent this fatal ending.  Antwerp’s Zoo finally
decided, during spring 1999, to send the two ultimate survivors towards Duisburg

Although more than 40 dolphins and other captive cetaceans already died in this small German zoo, Play Boy and its small troop of females lived
there, still peacefully, in a large and ozone-cleaned basin. Following the  » experts » opinion ,all linked to Zoos, this transfer would be a good thing
for our « Belgian dolphins « .

Some years later, in 2002, this  » usefull integration in a new social group » shows its terrible results :

Playboy and his son died, as well as the baby of Iris and other new-born babies in dubious number.
Iris is enduring now a particularly heavy nervous breakdown. She gave up any social life and quickly goes towards

The vision of her despair is shocking: during the shows, this forgotten
she-dolphin turns her back to the audience public, confined in a small corner of the the tiny auxiliary pool which she refuses to leave for the
largest basin. She did not move from this place for months. And the Zoo does nothing !
But what could it do ?

Beyond this individual story of the two « Belgian dolphins », a larger and
more alarming problem appears : what about the so-called « old dolphins », exhausted by years and years of public shows and captivity ? Which future
for them ?

We must clearly realize that the situation of Iris will be exactly the same for ALL the 3.000 captive dolphins or more
surviving in the world : they will all die in the pool where they’ve lived years
long without any hope of rest or freedom.  And they will be immediately replaced by « fresher » and younger

Rehabilitation of Ariel and Turbo in 2001, conducted by WSPA and Ric O'Barry. Picture of  Hélène O'Barry

A retirement haven for old dolphins
If some old elephants, old chimpanzees and other circus-animals, exhausted from shows, are entitled – as in the USA – to real « centers of retirement »,
where they can complete their « artist-life » in dignity and under relatively decent conditions, why is this not the case for dolphins?
If only in the name of our own moral values, there is urgency to tackle this painful chapter of the « old circus-animals « .
The veterinaries know, just like all of us, that after a certain number of
years, the « burn-out »-syndrome catches up with all of them. It is a crime to let them
die under those conditions, as is currently the case.

Although, to organise an individual rehabilitation process for
each dolphin, to rent a new sea-pen each time is a very expensive and
exceptional process. Until now, that’s the only way dolphins were rehabilitated.

Various proposals were made to create well
equiped permanent centers
, either in South of France or, as suggested several times by Ric O’
Barry, somewhere in Spain or in the Caribbean.
Very concrete plans exist but no follow-on actions were ever taken.
It seems as if the delphinarium-lobby is even more powerful than suspected.

In this kind of lagoon, human visits
would have been prohibited. The dolphins were to remain with their own in the lagoon and could be observed only from watchtowers.
So, in addition to the
financial and tourist impact of this possibility of dolphin-watching, the dolphins of the lagoon would have gradually been weaned off human contacts
and by that be prepared for a gentle and gradual return to sea.
So, when creating such « retirement lagoons », we could also answer to other

It is actually necessary to take into consideration that on the assumption that the delphinariums one day suddenly closed, these protected facilities
could be used for all captive dolphins who either have spent a lot of their life-time in basins or were even born there. After all, these animals have
become seriously dependent on human care and could not regain the oceans without
careful preparation.

Of course, many of the recently captured dolphins could certainly quickly re-adapt to freedom but it is obvious that the damages caused by a long
lasting containment are so far reaching that the rehabilitation of  » old dolphins  » proves always extremely

But that does not mean to confirm the assumption that these rehabilitations
always turn into failures !
Scientists know pertinently well that an intelligent animal capable of surviving
a captivity under intolerable conditions is also clever enough to re-learn the
routines of a natural life.

Well prepared actions are always successful; a prove is the latest rehabilitation
of the dolphins Ariel
and Turbo, led by Ric O’ Barry and the WSPA.
Also the impressive list of all
the successful rehabilitations, as reported by Kenneth C Balcomb
, is to be
taken into consideration.

If anti-captivity
campaign’s only result is a transfer to another facility, activists are clearly
making more harm  than good to the dolphins.

there still any hope for Iris and Ivo?
« This is the question our supporters ask us again and again.
At the time of writing — January 2002 — Iris and her son, Ivo, are going into
their twenty-first year of captivity. Captured along with two other dolphins,
for twenty-one years Iris and Ivo have not seen the sun, felt the rain, tasted
real sea water, or experienced the thrill of foraging, navigating, surfing the
waves, diving deep, and leaping for the sheer joy of it. For twenty-one years
these two dolphins — ironically presented by the captivity industry as « ambassadors
for their wild co-species » — have not seen the ocean. The question is:
Will they ever be able to reunite with their natural environment? Sadly, the
likelihood of the Duisburg Zoo ever letting Iris and Ivo once again experience
natural seawater and the ability to move without restraint is minimal. The
dolphin captivity industry has sentenced Iris and Ivo to lifelong
confinement without parole, and with the dolphins’ transfer from one concrete
tank in Belgium to another concrete tank in Germany the dolphins seem to have
reached their final destination. But let’s not give up. It is worthwhile
expressing your opinion regarding the way the dolphin captivity industry chooses
to treat the precious wildlife of our Planet ».
O’Barry on « Dolphin Project’site

It’s sure that for Duisburg’s Zoo, which doesn’t dream as much as we do, the fate of Iris is
concluded in advance, just like the fate of all the other Duisburg cetacean prisoners :
they will all die on the spot or in some other far delphinarium and never, never,
at any time of their sad life, they won’t be able to enjoy once again the taste of freedom.
No more rehabilitation, no return to the sea occured anyway in Europe since 1992.

However, in order to save Iris from her deep nervous breakdown and to prevent her
from dying before her normal age, we need to stimulate her much more than she is stimulated now.
Some specific improvements could still be possible inside the facility itself, several inexpensive solutions could be proposed.
Roger Payne, in its book « Among Whales » suggested some of them.

To diffuse soft music in Iris’ little basin, to provide her with new toys,
to show her some videos under water surface, as they do in Hawaii.  Paul Spong rescuded a captive orca from a deep depression thanks to this kind of « musical
therapy ».

To begin a training programme of « electronic whistled language », as suggested by
Wayne-Batteau or Delphis
Project in Hawaii.
Many Universities could be interested in this project and ready to pay for it. Iris would enjoy new stimulations, new contacts and maybe even the
opportunity of communicating with us one day.

To allow the many friends of iris – there are more than thousands ! – to visit her regularly.
When she was in Antwerp, Iris was allowed to met people sitting around her pool and she
seemed to appreciatie these contacts.  Now she’s all alone and no one is
allowed to approach her.  Why ?
The « jail visitors » could stimulate her with new plays, mirrors, conversations and other exciting
cognitive experiments.  Of course, these visitors should be subject to a medical examination, in order not to transmit pathogenic germs
to the dolphin. They should also make the proof of the validity of their proposals.

know more about Environmental Enrichment for Captive Animals

know more about dolphin rehab’ and
retirement centers for old captive animals 

Rehabilitation Protocol

Successfull rehabilitations

Turbo & Ariel Rehabilitation

Ariel et Turbo, free at last !

What happened to the Atlantis Marine Park
dolphins released into the wild 10 years ago ?

List of all the retirement

Associations involved in this

Elephant sanctuary

Chimps’ retirement centers

Bear retirement center

Even Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
Ciricus take care of their old captive animals !

as well as Belize Zoo
« Originally founded in 1983 by Sharon Matola as a retirement home for old natural history
« movie stars », 17 animals that had been left behind by a film crew, the Zoo has become a refuge and rehabilitation center for injured
wildlife, as well as a home for abused and abandoned « pets ». These pets are primarily wild animals that people have tried to
domesticate. It is the goal of the zoo to return animals back to the wild whenever possible.
However, those who can not return become permanent residents, and provide the visitor an opportunity to get photos of a jaguar, tapir, scarlet
macaw, jabiru stork or any of the other 150 mammal, reptiles or birds in
residence ».

Retirement for Animals Used in Research — A Difficult Decision

Black Pine Animal Park is not just a zoo, it’s a sanctuary for rescued, rehabilitated, and retired exotic animals

Fondation Fauna

And NOTHING for the « old » dolphins….

 iris et ivo















On March 4th
1998, the personal trainer of
Iris and Ivo sent me this
E-mail :

« Hi Yvon,
We don’t know anything for sure about what will happen to our
dolphins, so everything that follows is pure speculation from my side, and possibly not even our official

Normally, the dolphins will stay in
Antwerp until one of them – most likely Iris- will die. The
remaining dolphin will simply have to go to some other place. I
would like to see it go to Harderwijk, since they built a new
dolphin pool there, 15 million litres of real seawater in open
air, with the possibility of heating the water in winter ’til 10
degrees in part of the pool.

In this ‘Laguna’ are no shows being
given, they are just feeding the dolphins and playing with them
when they want to (the dolphins, I mean), and they’re trying to
build up something that is as close to a real dolphin social
group as possible in captivity. I think this kind of project is
the future in dolphin-keeping and I’d like Iris or Ivo (and when
possible both of them, but that isn’t very likely to happen) to
be part of that. (…) »

In other words, Antwerp’s Zoo was just waiting for Iris

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