Why shouldn’t animals be used for entertainment?

wild lion animals in entertainment

Animals are not just suffering because of our desire to eat them or wear them, they are also suffering because of our entertainment choices. While at a glance these industries may appear to be lighthearted and fun, life for the animals is far from this. Doing something for pleasure or fun isn’t enough to justify the exploitation of others.. Rodeos, zoos, aquariums, petting zoos, circuses, camel and goat races, and riding ponies, horses, and camels perpetuate the idea that animals are here for us, in this instance as nothing more than entertainment props. When they grow old, become sick, or get injured, they are killed and replaced by the next victim. Let’s dive into the animal welfare issues within these industries.

“[W]e have this fundamental responsibility to not take advantage” of animals who have no control over whether or not they live with humans.

Ren Hurst

The Animals

Around the world, almost every animal is exploited in some way for human entertainment purposes. While society is becoming more vocal about the abuse of animals used in entertainment overseas, such as in bullfights, elephant rides, monkeys in chains, and photos with drugged tigers, thousands of animals are suffering in our own hands. 

Rodeos

There are four major events in rodeos, calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, and bronc riding.

Calf Roping

Calf roping involves releasing a young calf into the arena, while a roper on horseback chases and lassos the calf by throwing a rope over their head. The calf is jerked to a stop and the rider has 30 seconds to jump off the horse, throw the calf onto their back, and tie three of their legs together [1]. 

Steer Wrestling

Steer wrestling involves releasing a full-grown steer into an arena, while a mounted cowboy pursues them, lassoing them by their horns. The rider then dismounts and wrestles the to the ground, to tie up their legs [2].

Bull Riding

Bull riding is when a bull is released from a bucking chute with a rider holding on with one hand, attempting to stay on their back for as long as possible as the bull bucks. 

Credit: Animals Uncovered

Bronc Riding

Bronc-riding is similar to bull riding, where a bronc is released from a bucking cute while a contestant attempts to stay on the bucking horse for eight seconds.

Credit: Animals Uncovered

Stress, Injuries, and Death. 

Being prey animals, calves, steers, bulls, and horses feel safest when with their herd, but for these events, they are separated and feel like they are being chased or attacked by a “predator”. 

Calves commonly sustain injuries, such as damage to their windpipe and soft tissues, choking, bruising, and broken or fractured bones, backs, and necks [1]. It is also not uncommon for calves to be mis-roped, where the lasso goes around their face or their body and can pull their bodies in awkward positions. Calves and steers have been known to run headfirst into the arena walls as an attempt to escape.

In addition to the stress, steers suffer from the extremely rough handling. Like the calves, steers also suffer from damage to their windpipe, bruising, neck, muscle and tendon injuries, and broken bones [3].

Bucking is often a bulls’ instinctive response to fear, discomfort, and pain. Other common signs of stress and fear in bulls are shown through their facial expressions, excessive drooling of saliva, an open mouth, and flared nostrils. Some bulls even charge at the riders or the staff inside the arena, highlighting their distress. Bulls commonly sustain broken legs due to the rapid bucking 

Calves, steers, bulls, and broncos have died or been killed during rodeo events, due to breaking their backs, necks, and legs – as the latter renders them useless for future events.

Transport and confinement

Animals involved in the rodeo are transported for long distances in trucks when moving from one event to another. Once they arrive at the destination, they are kept in small pens, unable to graze as they naturally would. The animals are often not given any shelter and they are left to withstand the elements. 

Life after the rodeo

“Successful” bulls – the ones who buck more – also often used for breeding future generations of bulls. This means they may be “milked” by a worker, in other words, manually forced to ejaculate into a collection bag, so that their sperm can be artificially inseminated into a female [4].

After the animals have served their purpose, they will be sent to slaughter and replaced by new animals.

Dr C.G. Haber, a veterinarian who spent 30 years as a federal meat inspector, worked in slaughterhouses in the United States and saw many animals discarded from rodeos and sold for slaughter. He described the animals as being “so extensively bruised that the only areas in which the skin was attached (to the flesh) were the head, neck, leg, and belly. I have seen animals with six to eight ribs broken from the spine and at times, puncturing the lungs. I have seen as much as two to three gallons of free blood accumulated under the detached skin.” These injuries are a result of animals’ being thrown in calf-roping events or being jumped on from atop horses during steer wrestling [5].

Credit: Animals Uncovered

The Circus

Around the world, circuses still use captive animals such as lions, tigers, monkeys, elephants, horses, dogs, goat, pigs, and ponies to perform unnatural tricks for people’s entertainment. Circus owners often claim that their shows help with conservation and play an educational role but this is far from true. The only thing people and in particular children will learn from viewing animals in circuses is that it’s okay to use them for entertainment.

Wild animals in captivity and life on the road

Life in captivity is stressful for any animal and we do not want to take away from this fact when discussing wild animals. The industry claims that because the animals being used today were bred and kept in captivity for their entire lives, they have lost their natural instincts, but this is untrue. It takes thousands of years for an animal’s behaviour to adapt and evolve to their surroundings. It cannot be done in just 21-generations [6].

While lions and lionesses spend up to 16 hours a day resting, in their natural habitat they would roam up to 12km a day [7]. During this time they are free to run, leap, hunt, and climb as they wish. Those who are confined to life on the road are denied these behaviours and are kept in small pens (just 20metres squares for one individual and an additional 10m for each extra animal) that prevent them from being able to run and a wagon with a few “toys” to entertain themselves [6].  

Rhesus Macaque monkeys are the most common species used in circuses. In the wild, these intelligent animals spend up to 9 hours exploring their homes (which can be an area of 15km squared), travelling over 3km in a day [8, 9]. They also enjoy interacting with up to 200 individuals! In the circus, their enclosures can be as little as 5metres squared [10]. Those stuck in the circus can experience boredom, depression, frustration, stress, and become aggressive [11]. 

In Australia, animals must be given just one months rest in any 12 month period. While traveling, the animals must be given a ten minute stop every two hours and can be transported for 48 hours without exercise [12]. The transport wagons and cages, and display areas, are much smaller than the space an animal would naturally need. 

According to the Australian standards, the animals can be given just 45 minutes exercise, 4 days of every week, and it can be in the form of training sessions and/or public performance – meaning no time to exercise as they please. This standard does not apply when the circus is travellling or when the animals are in a layover period. Additionally, all animals must have access to a display cage for a minimum of six hours each day during daylight hours – meaning they can spend 18 hours in smaller enclosures [12].

circus lions
The “enrichment” Stardust lions receive.
Credit: Fraser Coast Chronicle

Stereotypies

The captive life, travelling, and training methods can cause the circus animals to develop stereotypic behaviour – defined as a repetitive, invariant behaviour pattern with no obvious goal or function – such as pacing, bar biting, and swaying, as a result of frustration, boredom and depression [131415]. Below is some footage of animals at Stardust circus who exhibit these signs:

Training Methods

Australian animal welfare standards state that only positive reinforcement training is allowed, however, it is unclear what goes on behind closed doors [12]. Exposés of animals around the globe have shown that animals are trained by negative reinforcement, such as being beaten, electric prods, choke ropes, deprivation of food and water [16].

Loud noises and bright lights

Circuses are full of unnatural noises and lights. The music, cheers, and laughter is incredibly distressing to animals and can damage the delicate structures of the animals middle and inner ear – just like with humans. Animals hearing – particularly lions and dogs – are far more sensitive than ours and should not be regularly exposed to it [17]. 

Additionally, the animals spend most of their life next to busy roads, a far difference from their natural habitat.

Horses performing unnatural tricks.
Credit: Stardust Circus

Zoos and Aquariums

A zoo or aquarium is a facility that confines animals in enclosures, to be put on display for humans. There are thousands of these facilities around the world, holding species of all kinds captive in enclosures that are a fraction of the size of the animal’s natural environment. While they claim it is for the animals benefit, or the survival of the species, the reality is, life in an enclosure or tank, is no life at all.

Australian zoos, are codified as “animal display establishments” by the NSW Government and are primarily governed by two acts at the Commonwealth level, the Quarantine Act and the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Imports and Exports) Act 1982. Each state and territory, however, is a distinct body in terms of zoo related legislation. Further to this, there are separate pieces of state legislation governing wildlife protection and animal welfare, further problematising the regulatory enforcement of these vital issues [18].

If we compare this to our own lives, we simply have to look at the recent lockdown due to Coronavirus. For our own safety, people were asked to stay home for a few weeks to a few months. People began to feel trapped in their environment and suicide and depression rates increased. This is what an animal in a zoo or aquarium’s whole life is like. Confined to an area, unable to leave for thousands of days on end.

Polar bear in the wild verses the unnatural enclosure.

Conservation Myth

While some zoos may contribute a small portion of their time and effort to conservation projects, those who are rehabilitated with likely never be released into their natural habitat. Additionally, the vast majority of animals trapped are not on the endangered list. Ex-zoo director, David Hancocks, estimates that less than 3% of profits go towards conservation [19].

Breeding and trading animals

Young animals are a draw-card for crowds, and as a result, zoos conduct breeding programs. Those who are no longer seen as profitable or as a “surplus” are sold or traded to other zoos. This damages any bonds between animals as they are separated from one another.

Captivity

Although zoos go to great lengths to mimic the natural habitats of animals, they remain artificial environments and generally provide significantly less room than the animal would have in the wild. For example, sharks and polar bears both travel thousands of kilometres every single year, and up to 80km a day, but in their tanks and enclosures, they are forced to swim and walk in circles, never experiencing life as they were intended [2021]. These are just two species who are denied their natural behaviours.

Captivity brings with it issues of creating the perfect temperature for the animal’s enclosure, feeding animals unnatural or inefficient diets, altering their feeding patterns, inbreeding, and removing their freedom.

Confined sharks and fish.

Stereotypies and depression

Animals in captivity develop depression called zoochosis and stereotypic behaviour, as mentioned with circus animals, are another issue that is of primary concern relating to captive animal welfare [222324]. Captive animals frequently display stereotypies due to stress, boredom, loneliness, frustration and the inability to carry out their natural behaviour (stereotypies are also seen in factory-farmed animals for the same reasons). Just as we get bored being stuck in the same environment, so do the animals. The only difference is, our “fun” activity is the reason for their suffering.

One of the heartbreaking examples of the severe depression these animals experience is the story of Kathy, one of the dolphins who played Flipper. Kathy looked her trainer in the eye, sank to the bottom of a steel tank and stopped breathing. Richard O’Barry said her suicide is what changed him, transforming him from the dolphin trainer into an animal-rights activist for life, and his role in The Cove, the Oscar-winning documentary about the dolphin-meat business in a small town in Japan [25].

“The [animal entertainment] industry doesn’t want people to think dolphins are capable of suicide, but these are self-aware creatures with a brain larger than a human brain. If life becomes so unbearable, they just don’t take the next breath. It’s suicide.”

Richard O’Barry

The impact of zoo visitors on animal welfare and behaviour

In near-total confinement settings such as zoos, animals are repeatedly exposed to unfamiliar people and frequently have sparse prospects for refuge. This constant exposure and the stress it involves can lead to conditions under which confined animals are effectively forced into close proximity with visitors, having negative effects on their welfare and well being [26].

Credit: Unknown (left) & Eyes of the Innocent (right)

Petting Zoos

Petting zoos are displays that exhibit a range of baby animals for children to pet and feed. While this may seem harmless, there are many welfare issues. 

Breeding cycle 

Petting zoos only display young, “cute” animals, meaning it is a never-ending cruel cycle of breeding, abandonment, and premature death. Exhibitors breed or acquire young animals, who are prematurely taken from their mothers to be displayed to the public. As they grow older, they are often slaughtered and replaced by baby animals.

Transport

Some petting zoos move around to various locations, for kids parties or carnivals. This is stressful for the young animals, as they do not have the comfort of their mum and are repeatedly exposed to unfamiliar environments.

Stress and injuries

Baby animals rely on their mothers for guidance and protection. In their absence, they experience extreme stress and fear. This is exacerbated by the fact that the children are a threat to them [27]. Children are unaware of their bodies and have not developed the understanding of being gentle – they can also be rather loud. The animals, against their will, are picked up, held, patted, chased, and yelled at (due to excitement) by the kids.  

Baby chicks and ducklings often jump out of the kids’ hands out of fear, which can result in injuries to their delicate bodies. They can also be trampled by their feet.

They can also be on display in the same mobile establishment for 14 days at a time, meaning their stress is never-ending [28].

Life after the petting zoo

As the animals grow, they start to become more difficult to handle and in some cases, less tolerant towards the kids. As a result, they are replaced by younger animals and may be grown out and sold for slaughter or to other farms.

Health Issues

Petting zoos are also a risk for children, pregnant women, and elderly people. Experts indicate that petting zoos are hotspots for pathogens and zoonotic diseases. Infection can spread via direct contact or indirect contact with animals [29].

Pony and Horse Riding

Ponies are calm, gentle creatures and behind their adorable charm and kiddie appeal, there is an immense amount of suffering.

Life on the Road

Most ponies who are used for rides at the local carnival or kids parties are condemned to an unnatural life of misery on the road. They are constantly being transported between destinations and are denied their natural grazing behaviours.

Injuries and suffering

PETA investigations have found that ponies can suffer from hoof ailments, saddle sores, and mouth and teeth problems, resulting from an ill-fitting or carelessly rigged tackle [30]. 

Carnivals and fairs are often held in summer, meaning these animals are forced to work for hours in the heat. PETA also found that the animals may be withheld water to prevent them from urinating in front of the kids. 

Studies into working horses have found that they experience chronic stress, depression, and behavioural disorders, apathy, and are more withdrawn [31].

pony rides
Live pony carousel
Credit: One Green Planet

Life after riding 

Horses who are reluctant to listen or be involved are sold at the sales and replaced by individuals who are more willing to cooperate. In the case of ponies, if one becomes sick or worn out, they are easily replaced, as this option is in many cases cheaper than providing them with veterinary care. Animal Liberation staff witnessed ponies, both young and old, being sold at the sale yard for as little as $15, and older horses being sold for just $150 – often to kill-buyers.

ponies
Ponies at the sale yard.
Credit: Animal Liberation

Camels 

Camels were introduced to Australia during the 1890’s to help transport goods. As they naturally live in arid environments and require less water, they were seen as a better option than horses. When they were no longer needed, people set them free and since then, they have established a stable population. After being classified as a “pest”, people saw this as an opportunity to exploit the camels, sending them to slaughter, using them in dairies or for rides and even racing [32].

Rides

Across Australia, camels are used as a tourist attraction. Ride times can vary from 5 minutes, where camels are forced to walk around in a circle for hours at a time, to 1-2 hour tours. 

Camel Racing

In addition to riding, camels are also forced to race up to 18 others around a “U” shaped 1,500m track with a jockey on their back [33]. 

camel racing
Camel racing.
Credit: Gavin Butler

Trapping Camels

The catching, handling, and transport of camels is incredibly stressful for the individuals, as they have been wild for many generations. The close contact with humans can cause acute lameness, damage to tendons, ligaments, and bones, bruising, fighting due to mixing groups, infections, feeding disruptions, and abortions in pregnant females [34].

trapping wild camels
Camels on trapping station.
Credit: Aileron Pastoral Holdings

Training

Camels are naturally very timid creatures and rather than “fight” or “flight”, they will typically freeze when scared or threatened. Once captured, the wild camels must undergo weeks to months of training, which ultimately breaks their spirits and allows them to be controlled by the workers. They must learn, for example, to stay laying down so that people can climb onto them, stand with heavyweights on their backs, walk in a line, and obey a human.  

Nose Pegs

As camels are large animals, people needed a way to have more control over them. As a result, they puncture a hole into their nose and insert a wooden or plastic peg with a rope attached to it. This way, if the camel becomes “unruly”, they can tug on the nose peg and the pain will force the camel to comply [35].

camel riding nose peg
Camel nose peg with rope.
Credit: Luido Kuipers

Castration

Males are castrated when they are sub-adult or an adult and not on calves. This does not have to be performed with anaesthetic and is incredibly painful for the animals [36].

Carrying heavy loads

While camels are strong animals, it does not mean we should exploit them by loading them up with heavy objects. Camels can be forced to carry two people at a time as well as the heavy saddle. Australian standards allow camels to carry up to 300kg at a time [35].

Multiple Rides, Tours, or Races

The camels at varying facilities are often made to do multiple tours and rides every day, up to 7 days a week. In some cases, their saddles are not taken off for the entire day.

camel tours
Camels with saddles waiting.

Goat Racing

Wild goat racing is a ‘sport’ that involves capturing wild goats, auctioning them off, dragging them across a raceway, harnessing them to a cart, and forcing them to race [37]. Animal Liberation investigators who witnessed these events said it was one of the cruelest animal abusing ‘sports’ in Australia.

Mental and Physical Issues

The goats used are typically wild or semi-wild, they are not accustomed to humans or physical constraints, causing them to suffer from the stress. Goats are trapped, caught and transported to the race track. They are then restrained by ropes tied around their horns and have a harness and cart strapped attached to them. Being prey animals, they feel threatened by the entire situation.

As these animals are wild, they have not been trained to pull a cart, which is dangerous to their wellbeing. While Animal Liberation is against using goats for work, research has found that a trained doe (female goat) should only eventually pull a maximum of their own weight, and a male should only pull a maximum of one and a half times their weight when it is evenly distributed [38]. The goats in Australian races are not trained and often have adults sitting in the carts. As a result, the goat’s body endures a severe amount of physical strain and stress, as there is a large weight disparity.

After the events, the goats are placed back on the trucks and released to semi-wild or wild properties.

Involvement of Children

Children from four years of age are encouraged to be ‘jockeys’, placing them at risk of injuries. Animal Liberation investigators witnessed children laying on the ground in the foetal positions while attempting to tend to their injuries after they had fallen from the carts, while scared goats ran wildly around them. All the while, the crowd cheers. This is even evident in one popular goat racing event in Lightning Ridge (above).

Involving children in such an abusive, cruel ‘sport’, fosters this idea that humans can be insensitive to animals, reducing their empathy for the animal’s pain and suffering. Research in psychology and criminology has shown that people who commit acts of cruelty towards animals, often go on to commit violent acts towards humans [39].

Animal Liberation Investigation

Once the race begins, some goats collapse to the ground with fright, while others attempt to escape, crashing headfirst into fences, leaving some bleeding and others knocked unconscious. From the investigations, the goats appear to be re-used in several heats. As the events continue, the animals only become more difficult to handle and struggle to avoid further involvement. Many showed signs of exhaustion by collapsing [40].

Vets claimed that our footage showed evidence of cruelty to animals, as well as more serious, aggravated cruelty to animals.

After the footage was released by Today Tonight, Animal Liberation petitioned supporters to cease their funding. Qantas and Origin were two big names to withdraw their support, based on animal welfare issues. 

goat racing australia
Goat being dragged back onto the track.

What’s next?

As consumers, we hold the power to end these animals suffering. Without our money, these facilities, events, activities and would simply cease to exist, freeing the animals from a lifetime of misery.

The good news is, there are so many activities we can do instead.


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