Animals in Entertainment: A Show at what Cost?
An Entertainment Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM Michael Zavist, Animal Blawg
March 2021

We should not subject animals to torture and unnatural conditions just so we can be entertained by the tricks we can have them do.

shackled Elephant

Whether you realize it or not, animals have been used in entertainment for most of our lifetime. Whether in circuses, zoos, television, movies, and other forms of fighting events, animals have always played a role at one point or another. Unfortunately using animals for these purposes can often involve cruelty and mistreatment. Travel, confinement, and forced behavior changes harms these animals. There is also minimal state and federal protection for animals used in entertainment. The Animal Welfare Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act give exemptions to some of the laws protecting these animals all for the sake of “education” and “entertainment.” Is the cost of an animal’s wellbeing worth the brief moments of entertainment for us to enjoy? I think not.

Containing wild animals in captivity is usually a dangerous idea. Trainers, performers, and people put themselves at risk when these animals are subjected to mistreatment. A wild animal is not the same as a domestic pet that you may have grown up with. These dangers have become a big part of our history and are not simply unheard of stories. Notable examples of this are the SeaWorld incident in Orlando and the death of Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo.

 Animals in captivity are unable to fully exhibit natural tendencies like foraging, socializing, or swimming. Many animals such as polar bears, grizzly bears, and tigers suffer physically and psychologically when confined. Animals, especially large animals, need adequate space to roam, swim and explore. Orcas in the wild exist in tight-knit family groups and can travel over 100 miles in a single day. Captive orcas are kept in small pools for entertainment, in which they cannot dive and must swim circles in shallow tanks. Each entertainment industry subjects their animals to some form of unnatural conditions.

Zoos remove animals from their natural birthplaces and companions, and confine them in unnatural surroundings. Some Zoos help rehabilitate injured animals and keep them alive when they are unfit to return to the wild. Unfortunately around 33 percent of large, captive-bred carnivores die if they return to the wild according to a team of researchers from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. These animals end up losing their survival skills and are subject to breeding in captivity. Some of us may remember the Netflix documentary Tiger King from just last year. Investigators documented the treatment of tiger cubs born at Tiger Safari. These cubs were subject to mishandling from the public and were consigned to cages after the Tiger Safari was done with them. These cubs ended up dying almost a year into their lives. The cost of these animals’ lives is not worth us being able to witness them outside of their habitats.

In movies and television animals, although some are now using CGI and animatronics, there are still animals subjected to unnatural conditions for these motion pictures. The 1959 movie, “Ben-Hur,” cost the lives of over 100 horses during its climactic chariot race. The 2011 movie, “Zookeeper,” a giraffe died as a result of eating a piece of tarp. The 2012 movie, “The Life of Pi,” a tiger reportedly suffered a near-drowning during a scene which being filmed in a water tank. These animals are treated as if they were props and thrown into dangerous scenarios not by their own choice.

Bullfighting is one of the harsher forms of entertainment. A bull is suddenly thrust into an arena and is repeatedly attacked until it dies. However, the story does not end there. The bull prior to the fight is abused in various ways in order to weaken and disorient them or to make them appear wild and ferocious while not actually making them so. They can have their vision blurred with petroleum jelly, deafened with cotton, horns shaved, deprived of food, and various other tortures. All of this to heavily disable the bull and make sure the “matador” is safe for the fight. On the day of the fight the bull is paraded around and attacked from the matador and his assistants. They continue until the bull can barely stand and then for the finale the matador will stab the bull until it dies. The entire performance is cruel and blatant torture of the animal.

We are constantly involved with animals in our day to day lives and it is essential that we bring awareness to these cruelties. We should not subject animals to torture and unnatural conditions just so we can be entertained by the tricks we can have them do. Thankfully, treatment of these animals is getting better. The Animal Legal Defense Fund files high profile lawsuits and lobbies and advocates for stronger laws to protect animals used in entertainment. In movies and television, animatronics and CGI are starting to replace animals used in media. In the U.S., there are six states and over 150 localities that have passed various restrictions or bans involving the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows. We are taking steps to making these animals lives better and stopping the worst cruelty.


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