Should Other Animals Entertain Us?
In zoos and circuses, in competitions and in films, animals are exploited regularly for human entertainment. No matter how humane the owners and trainers claim to be, the point is animals can’t consent to be used this way. Bob Dylan sang, “It ain’t no good; you shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you.” We shouldn’t make other animals get our kicks for us either.
Under the big top, animals perform through various forms of coercion. No free-living animal performs such choreographed stunts for human onlookers naturally. From tigers jumping through flaming hoops to elephants dressed up like Vegas dancers, animals caught or purposely bred for circuses live highly unnatural scenarios rather than the lives of freedom they ought to be leading. Some circuses greenwash what they do by claiming to breed endangered species. Generally, they ignore the key point of animal rights: Life matters but freedom matters just as much.
Many communities have acknowledged that circuses treat nonhuman animals unjustly, and refuse to welcome circus acts with animals. If you live in such a community and a circus comes to town, check to see whether this circus normally performs with animals or not. Even if the circus removes its animal acts to adhere to your municipality’s by-laws, ticket-holders will still be supporting a circus that has no problem with using animals when the by-laws do not prohibit it.
On a positive note, an increasing number of companies refuse to use animals and these companies merit our support. Also, young people can be offered opportunities to see human performers, or learn to perform themselves. Music, dance, puppet shows, juggling, kite-making, photography -- all these activities teach us a talent and we enjoy them as well. Serious educators: Think about the value of these ideas rather than helping a circus corporation make money by herding young people into seats so they can watch animals being dominated and controlled.
You can read more about circuses at the Friends of Animals website.
Zoos remove animals from their natural birthplaces and companions, and confine them in unnatural surroundings. Justifications include arguments such as “they show us animals we normally wouldn’t see”; “they help rehabilitate animals”; and “they are an important educational tool in preserving endangered species.”
While many modern zoos do attempt to mimic the animals’ environment as closely as possible, you cannot recreate an arctic ecosystem in San Diego or an Amazon ecosystem in Winnipeg. For an article on the tragedy of zoos, specifically about a Siberian tiger who escaped an enclosure, killed, and was promptly killed in return, read Lee Hall’s Animals on Stage in Dissident Voice.
And while it’s true that most of us will never witness a polar bear or lion in natural habitat, most of us will never see indigenous human tribes of Columbia, either. Does this mean we ought to put them in zoos to educate ourselves? Why should we believe other animals do not deserve the same respect we show to other human beings?
Moreover, what you’ve seen at the zoo is by no means an animal behaving normally. The animals are captive, restrained, and usually far from their natural habitat. Babies are produced to amuse customers and cover the zoo's overhead costs. Older and disabled animals often just disappear one day.
The zoo is a display of human domination. It’s also very rare that an animal raised in a zoo ever gets to live a free life – a zoo can't easily profit from animals not living within their fences.
Vegan philosophy opposes zoos and any sites where animals are forced to be on display to earn their keep.
Film and Television
Just as in other industries, animals used in movies and TV are coerced to behave unnaturally for our amusement. Many viewers are unaware of the conditions behind the scenes. During the climactic chariot race in Ben-Hur, for example, nearly 100 horses were killed. Incidents such as this provoked the involvement of overseers such as the American Humane Association and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Nowadays we often see the statement: No animals were harmed in the production of this show. Yet there have been cases where animals have been harmed, even killed, but because it might not have been deliberate the closing credit avowal is approved.
Most important, obvious physical harm is not the only form of harm nonhuman animals experience. While many animals may be showered with treats on the set, their off-set lives can be quite different. No matter how they are kept, they are always confined. And it is ultimately up to the human keepers, not themselves, when they’ll be allowed their privacy and when they’ll be allowed to interact with other beings.
Thanks to modern technology, realistic nonhuman characters can be provided for film and television artificially. Vegans encourage entertainment in which no animals were used at all.
Bullfights, Rodeos and Bull Riding
Bullfights are consumption of bulls, and a vegan rules them out as legitimate entertainment. Rodeos might not be the obvious killers bullfights are, but they are shows of human dominance over other animals, and they do often result in serious injuries to the animals. Read more here. Bull riding is also a disturbing spectacle of the domination of captive animals. During the event, the bulls’ tails are twisted in the chute, they are sometimes shocked as they exit, and straps are tightened around their flanks to provoke them to violently buck the riders. The bull-riding motto is “fortune favors the brave,” but there is nothing brave or sporting about exploitation. A vegan culture is a peaceful culture, and working for that is truly brave. Read more here.
Hunting causes fear and pain to free-living animals. It is ecologically disruptive, upsetting the delicate balance of natural prey-predator dynamics and thereby wrecking havoc on entire ecosystems.
When animal predators hunt, they are acting as carnivores naturally act. Humans are not carnivores; we can live quite enjoyably on a balanced diet of vegetables, beans and breads, and -- as environmental and social justice commentator George Monbiot points out -- most people in the world in fact do.
Vegans support the concept of rights for free-living animals and object to killing them.Click here to read more regarding an animal-rights perspective on hunting.
Unfortunately, there are so many ways we put other animals on display and amuse ourselves with their captivity that we can't cover all of them. From visiting the aquarium to raffling off goldfish, from the Kentucky Derby races to pig races at a local fair, from horse carriage rides to collecting fireflies in a jar, we so often believe it's fun or traditional or educational to rely on the captivity of others. But imagine being any one of the animals who are being used in that way.
Do we take the time to simply enjoy our natural surroundings, and learn about the many animals who live in our midst - without disrupting their ways?
A Word on Animal Sanctuaries
An animal sanctuary should be just that: a peaceful place for rescued animals. Animals should not be required to interact with the public. Nor should the promotional literature of sanctuaries include photos of animals dressed up, or performing human-like activities for the amusement of the readers. Animals in refuges should be rehabilitated and returned to freedom, or, if that is not possible, permitted to live as close as possible to the way they would live independently. Animal refuges should not serve or sell animal products.