What is animal entertainment and animal tourism? Why are these practices unhealthy for the animals involved? Why should you avoid them? All these questions and more answered!
For many, visiting the zoo or swimming with dolphins sounds like a perfectly fun activity. A lot of our childhood memories center around visiting zoos and aquariums or riding ponies.
We might think we’re aiding in animal conservation and education by supporting animal entertainment. However, this is often not the case. Many animals are abused, mistreated, and kept in deplorable living conditions all in the name of making a profit.
Documentaries like Blackfish are exposing the detrimental effects of keeping animals in captivity and using them for entertainment. Finally, more and more consumers are becoming aware of the dark underbelly of animal entertainment and are boycotting these activities. Travelers are also becoming more savvy in spotting unethical animal tourism attractions like elephant riding and tiger temples.
In this guide highlights the various types of animal entertainment and animal tourism and how they negatively impact the health of the animals involved.
What is Animal Entertainment?
Animal entertainment is using any animal for the purpose of entertaining an audience or making a profit.
Many animals, including monkeys, bears, dolphins, elephants, and horses are often used for these purposes. Forcing an animal to perform tricks, sit for a selfie, or carry around passengers is cruel. These activities force animals to live in unnatural environments, use their bodies in harmful ways, and cause mental and physical stress to them. In some cases the effects are so serious they can die from them.
Here are some examples of animal entertainment and how each takes advantage of, and harms animals.
Circuses & Animal Entertainment
Perhaps the most popular and controversial form of animal entertainment is the circus. Although some modern circuses have phased out the use of animals, many that feature them still exist today.
Lions might be forced to jump through hoops and bears made to ride tricycles. All while the ringmaster uses a whip or other weapon to intimidate the animal into following orders. Additionally, in most cases animals are captured when they’re young. They are then trained in a grueling manner to perform in front of an audience.
When not onstage, these animals are often confined to a cage and have no opportunity to live life in a way that is natural to them.
Horseback Riding and Horse Racing
It’s fair to say that horse riding is highly respected in society today. Equestrianism is even a popular Olympic “sport”. Additionally, people spend huge sums of money gambling on horse races or attending posh polo matches.
Unfortunately, riding a horse – even if normalized in today’s world – is not natural for them. Horse racing itself is a brutal affair. Horses are selectively bred and trained constantly to be the fastest. When a horse underperforms, ages, or suffers an injury they are usually seen as waste products in the industry. Often, they’re abruptly sent to slaughter where they are killed and sold as horse meat.
A popular childhood pastime, zoos are a divisive form of animal entertainment. Many think zoos are educational and integral in preserving endangered species but this isn’t always the case.
Many zoos do not provide adequate living environments for the animals. Some are put into small, unnatural enclosures that do not resemble the animal’s natural habitat. Because they live in captivity many lose their natural instincts like hunting, migrating, or foraging.
Depending on which country you’re in, animal welfare laws can be quite lax, and some zoos take advantage of this. In China, for example, guests can pay to drive around a tiger enclosure in a caged vehicle. Raw meat is hung from the bars of the vehicle to attract tigers which are often starved to provide a more alluring feeding experience for guests.
Thankfully people have become more aware of the plight of zoo animals recently. The tragic death of the gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo shed some light on just how dark these establishments can be for animals.
Aquariums, much like zoos, are often viewed as educational and essential for conservation. Sharks, octopuses, turtles, tropical fish and other sea animals are kept in tanks for spectators to observe.
Some aquariums even offer diving inside the tanks. Others offer “touch pools” where children can touch small creatures like starfish and stingrays. This is extremely risky for these creatures, as many of them will die if taken out of the water, even for a brief moment.
Unfortunately, many animals inside aquariums exhibit signs of stress and illness. Some tanks are not large enough to accommodate the creatures, and they may not be properly cared for. Additionally, with visitors tapping on the glass, taking photos, and creating disturbances, the sea animals are made to endure abnormal living conditions. Obviously this kind of stress can lead to health complications and a shortened lifespan.
Animal Entertainment at Theme Parks
How do live animals fit into an environment with rollercoasters and bumper cars? Regrettably, theme parks are often homes for animals like dolphins, pandas, and sea lions. Although decreasing in popularity, places like SeaWorld, MarineLand, and Ocean Park still attract thousands of visitors every year.
Animal theme parks often feature performances like dolphin and killer wale shows. These animals are forced to perform by jumping through hoops and planting “kisses” on audience members’ faces. Since this isn’t natural behavior for these animals these activities can put a stress on their mental and physical wellbeing. They can even retaliate by . attacking and sometimes killing their trainers.
Additionally, they often live in extremely small tanks or enclosures and have to endure the constant noise from the rides and visitors which surround them. Causing further mental and physical stress.
Seen as barbaric and cruel by many, bullfighting is banned in many places. Yet, it is still practiced in parts of Europe and South America. The activity is considered to be a long-standing “art form” and part of traditional culture in some countries.
Bullfighting involves a matador slowly conquering and killing a bull in a span of about thirty minutes. The bull is provoked and angered through what is sometimes called a “dance” where he is repeatedly poked and stabbed by the matador. The bull usually experiences a prolonged, painful death that is drawn out to entertain the crowd. Afterwards, it is sent to a slaughterhouse to be used as meat.
If you ever played with a toy fishpond as a child, you might be surprised that many countries in Asia use real fish for this “game.” Tropical fish swim around in kiddie pools while young children take turns catching them in small nets for prizes.
The constant removal of a fish from the pool is very stressful. Many die by the end of the day, but it’s not a huge problem for the business owners. These small fish are quite inexpensive and can be “restocked” easily.
What is Animal Tourism?
Countless countries have become famous for the animal interactions they offer. Hordes of tourists flock to Thailand every year to see elephants. Africa is famous for its safaris, where guests can see giraffes and lions up close. Scuba divers congregate in the Philippines to swim with the gorgeous endangered whale sharks.
The problem with animal tourism is that much of it is unethical. In less developed countries, animals can provide a large source of income for locals. Therefore, they are often seen as nothing more than a commodity and are not properly cared for.
Types of Animal Tourism – Animals Rides
Riding atop of an exotic or majestic animal may seem like the perfect photo op, but it’s pure torture for the animals involved. The animals are often beaten into submission so that they can fully be controlled by their trainers. Their wellbeing is usually not a consideration. In many cases they carry tourists around all day without breaks, or enough food and water. Their living conditions are abhorrent and they are treated as nothing more than a mechanism in which to earn their owners money.
Perhaps the most popular and the cruelest of all, elephant riding is still widely practiced across Asia.
The trainers, called Mahouts, chain and beat baby elephants into submission at a young age. They literally “break” them through a torturous process so they can be controlled.
Once broken, they are used for the enjoyment of riders. While tourists snap photos from the back, the mahout carefully controls the elephant from the front. They subtly beat or poke it in the right direction with a metal hook.
If you want to see what it takes to break a baby elephant have a look at the below video.
There has been huge backlash against elephant riding in recent years. In response, more and more elephant sanctuaries are popping up in different countries. They aim to educate tourists about the cruelty related to elephant riding and how they can help stop the abuse.
Unfortunately, many are fake “sanctuaries”. They claim to help elephants, but actually offer animal entertainment like rides or mud baths with the elephants.
Possibly the most famous activity in Egypt (besides visiting the pyramids, of course). Camel riding results in camels carrying heavy passengers and their luggage for long distances. They often have to walk on difficult terrain and will be whipped if they falter.
Some camels have open sores, infections, and bruises from the constant grueling work. Additionally, many are not fed properly, and when they’re not carrying passengers, they’re usually tightly bound with no space to move.
Horse Carriage Rides
From Central Park to tropical islands, horse carriages have often been romanticized and seen as a fun and practical way to get around. These leisurely rides for tourists are anything but pleasant for the horses chauffeuring them around.
A single horse might be made to carry an entire family as well as their luggage. They are often forced to work long hours in the hot sun without rest. Many are exhausted, dehydrated, and malnourished. Some are forced to trot down crowded roads filled with loud cars and motorbikes.
Quite a few horses pulling carriages have even collapsed in public places. This is dangerous for the passengers but also detrimental to the horse, who will be beaten until it rises off the ground. I think we know what will happen to the poor horse if it’s not able to get up.
In an age of social media, taking a perfect photo with an adorable animal is a sure-fire way to get more likes. Unfortunately, animals used to pose for photos are often forced to complete unnatural tasks. Some are even drugged so that they can be easily controlled.
Luckily, Instagram has taken a stand against selfies with exotic or endangered animals, but this doesn’t lessen the appeal for many tourists.
Swimming With Dolphins and Sharks
Swimming with sea animals remains at the top of the list for many tourists. Some will cage dive into shark infested waters to come face-to-face with a real-life Jaws. Others will hang onto the backs of dolphins to be dragged around a swimming pool.
Pulling around tourists all day is not pleasant or natural for a dolphin. Neither is crashing into a giant cage in the hopes of getting food. These practices are dangerous for the animals but also for the tourists who pay for such activities.
Exotic Animal Photo Shoots
Taking a photo with a baby monkey or lion cub might be thrilling for tourists, but it’s the complete opposite for the animals involved. Exotic animal owners must tame wild animals at a young age. So, poachers often kill the mothers of baby animals in order to steal them and use them to earn a profit.
People travel from all over to take a photo with a giant python or cute sloth, not knowing about the dismal lives that many of these animals lead. When they’re not being passed from person to person, they’re often neglected and forced to live in tiny cages.
Ethical safaris are a great way to see animals in the wild, but not all tour companies offer such an experience. Some tours disturb animals by driving too close to them, so that guests can get that perfect photo. This disrupts the animals’ natural habitat and can damage the grasslands and roads.
Some safaris are actually trophy hunts, where rich tourists pay big money to shoot and bring back home parts of the rare animal they’ve killed. This can include tusks, furs, and horns. Some trophy hunters can get away with killing endangered species too.
How Can You Avoid Animal Entertainment?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see, help, and interact with animals. The main thing to consider is the ethics behind it. If you can ride, touch, or take a photo with an animal, it probably isn’t a pleasant experience for that animal, and should be avoided.
If you’re going on vacation, do some research before you visit a location to avoid paying for unethical animal entertainment. Instead, opt for animal sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers instead of zoos or aquariums. Alternatively, volunteer at a legitimate rescue centre for elephants instead of riding on one. Go for a hike in a national park or swim in the sea if you want to observe animals in their natural habitat.
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