Animals in Entertainment

Most of us, grew up taking family trips to the circus, zoo,  marine park or rodeo. Seeing animals held captive for human amusement was part of life. We never questioned it. While it is assumed that all humans, unless they have committed crimes against society, deserve freedom, we are not used to making that assumption for members of other species. We should ask ourselves why not. What have the animals in a zoo or marine park done to deserve their jail sentences, or the elephants in a circus done to deserve lives spent mostly in chains?

Humans, justly or unjustly locked up, might spend their days reading, or watching television or socializing with inmates. Non humans locked up, who should be spending their days swimming or walking with their families, or hunting or grazing and playing, often go mad from boredom.

Each of the forms of human entertainment that employ animals have specific inherent cruelties:



Circus animals live in cars or in chains when not performing tricks in the ring. Most people, seeing tigers jumps through hoops of fire, or elephants stand on their heads, never think about what is behind those unnatural acts. The circus would like us to believe that the animals are trained with positive reinforcement. If that were true then we would see trainers in the ring with bags of treats. Instead they carry whips and bullhooks  --sticks with sharp metal hooks on the end. The animals obey in the ring because they remember how those instruments of torture felt during training sessions.  If you visit the wonderfully informative website you can learn much about what circus animals endure. You can watch undercover footage of an elephant training session at the popular Carson and Barnes circus. You'll hear those naturally gentle herbivorous animals shrieking in pain and fear as a trainer with a bullhook urges his apprentice not to just touch them but to "hurt 'em," and "make 'em scream," saying that it has be done there in the barn -- it can't be done in front of 1,000 people.



The Philadelphia Inquirer   

May 5, 2005






Even at the world's "best" zoos, such as the San Diego Zoo, one still sees animals living in small cages. I think of two monkeys I saw in an enclosure at the San Diego zoo (which one couldn't help noticing was about the size of a jail cell). Those intelligent fellow primates don't just sleep in that cell, which would be the case for prisoners in a high security prison -- they never get out. No time in the yard, or gym, or cafeteria. And no parole.

With little to amuse them, one thing animals in a zoo might cherish are the bonds they form with their cell mates. But zoos swap animals back and forth for breeding programs with no concern for long-term or familial relationships.

In August 2003, a superb article in US News and World Report, headed "Cruel and Usual," spelled out the pitiful fate of older animals dumped by large popular zoos, where lively adolescents are more popular with visitors . They often end up in tiny filthy cages at roadside zoos across the country, or in canned hunts, where hunters pay large sums for the guaranteed kill of an exotic trophy animal. That article tells us "Dumping animals is the big, respectable zoos' dirty little secret."

There is currently a push to get elephants, who desperately need acres and acres of space on which to roam, out of zoos. Despite warnings from animal rights activists that the move would prove fatal, three elephants were shipped from the San Diego Wild Animal Park to the Lincoln Zoo in Chicago in April 2003, to make way for wild caught young elephants from Zimbabwe. Two years later, on May 1 2005, Wankie, the last of the three, died. Lincoln Park Zoo has finally announced that it does not plan to acquire more elephants. (Click here for more information on the Lincoln Zoo elephant deaths.)  The Detroit Zoo and San Francisco Zoo have released their elephants to sanctuary (though sadly zoo life had taken too much of a toll on Tinkerbelle, from San Francisco, and she died a few months later). Activists are working hard to have Maggie, the sole elephant at a the Anchorage zoo in Alaska, and Toni, an infirm elephant at the National Zoo in Washington DC,  released to sanctuary. Great resources on that issue are (a PETA site) and (from IDA). 


If you visit the Seaquarium in Miami, you can watch Lolita, an Orca who has been there in a small tank for thirty years, do tricks to amuse the crowd. If you visit you can read Lolita's story and order a film on which you'll see the horrifying footage from the day of her capture in Puget Sound, her mother being killed trying to prevent her baby's kidnapping. Lolita is the last remaining live Orca captured that day. Her family is still in Puget Sound, but even having been offered one million dollars by generous humans for her freedom, the Seaquarium refuses to let her go. 

Anyone who considers swimming with captive dolphins when on vacation outside of the US, might first think of happy dolphin family pods they have seen swimming free off the beach -- then imagine them being encircled by boats and nets, some drowning, all in a panic. The survivors are separated from each other and carted off to lucrative swim with dolphin programs.


Ric O'Barry, who once made his living capturing and training the dolphins who played Flipper, now works against dolphin captivity. He is now the marine mammal specialist for the leading French animal protection group, "One Voice." That group has shared a horrifying account of the annual dolphin slaughter in Japan, as thousands of dolphins are rounded into a bay and hacked up with machetes. Representatives of marine theme parks from around the world watch the carnage and pay the killers for  the best looking dolphins for the tourist industry.

Here are accounts from the website 

"One Voice succeeded in videotaping the gruesome scene as dolphin trainers, working side by side with the Taiji fishermen, drove a pod of more than 100 bottlenose dolphins into the killing lagoon to select the ones that fit the desired criteria for public display. The trainers killed at least four dolphins in the selection process. ... Meanwhile, the dolphin trainers let the fishermen kill all the dolphins they didn‚t want. There were several very small babies in the pod. They still depended on their mothers‚ milk for survival and were too young to train. So the fishermen killed them, and the dolphin trainers did absolutely nothing to help them. The dolphins cried as the fishermen slashed them with hooks and knives and the lagoon filled with their blood...

"At sunrise October 30th the fishermen began the process of killing the Risso's dolphins they had captured the day before.  During this massacre, we saw the logos of all three captive dolphin facilities located in Taiji: Dolphin Base, World Dolphin Resort and Taiji Whale Museum. It took the fishermen almost five hours to kill and butcher this large pod of dolphins. They have made it impossible to videotape and photograph the butchering process. White blinds and large curtains of blue tarp cover the entire slaughterhouse. Once again dolphin trainers were working side by side with the fishermen, selecting some of the dolphins for dolphinariums and letting the fishermen butcher the rest."

Many theme parks and aquariums contend that they do not buy wild- caught dolphins. But that does not mean they do not support the dolphin slaughter/capture industry. On October 17, 2005, the Vancouver Sun ran a story on the purchase of two dolphins from a Japanese aquarium. The dolphins were exempted from the Vancouver law against acquiring recently caught dolphins as the two were deemed to have injuries that made them unsuitable for wild release. However, the Japanese Aquarium to which the Vancouver aquarium paid something in the realm of $200,000 has no restrictions and can immediately replace the two with recently caught animals. The Vancouver Aquarium has thereby subsidized the annual Japanese dolphin slaughter and capture, and anybody who pays the price of admission at the Vancouver Aquarium will do the same.

No matter what the history of the particular animals, the price of admission at a marine mammal theme park subsidizes a horrifying industry. 


Rodeo horses and bulls buck to try to release bucking straps, cinched tightly around their abdomens. Cows and horses are often prodded with an electrical "hotshot" while in the chute, to rile them, causing intense pain to the animals. That is illegal, but anti rodeo activist Steve Hindi, has footage on the SHARK website (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) of the use of an electric prod as a government inspection official watches. After the rodeo, injured animals are carted off to the slaughter plant.