There are people who advocate for animal rights, which takes into account the equal treatment animals should receive [when compared to humans]. When people see animal hunting, bull, cook, or dog fighting, they condemn these practices cruel to animals, but would they associate that same cruelty and suffering with zoos and circuses? Often, animals who we selfishly capture and remove from natural habitats, are mistreated and abused. Not only is it bad for their well-being, it is morally wrong. Although zoos argue that they save endangered species and educate the public, and circuses argue that they provide fun loving educational experiences, animals are the ones being hurt. The suffering and violation of the rights of animals in zoos and circuses for our entertainment is unethical and unjustifiable.
One form of entertainment we have that many people tend to overlook are zoos. A zoo is defined as “an establishment that maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public.” Zoos are not the best places for animals, they deprive animals enough room and space, of companionship, and from living their life in their natural habitat. Renowned New York University philosopher and ethicist Dale Jamieson, says zoos remain “more or less random collections of animals kept under largely bad conditions.” According to animalequity.net, animals in zoos are “caged for life and deprived of the opportunity to develop and fulfill the full range of their interests and needs. Social animals are often forced to live in the misery of solitary confinement. Some animals are confined next to their predators, and many animals are taken from their families and sent to other zoos, or killed when their group size exceeds the space allotted to them” (1). There are instances where animals prefer to either be alone and are forced to be with other animals, or where animals long for interaction with other animals of the same species, but are separated from them. In the case with them being put together with others, sometimes they will be mistreated by those animals they wanted to distance themselves from.
Although zoos argue that they educate the public and foster an appreciation of animals, that objective is not fulfilled. According to the article, “For and Against Zoos”, zoos believe that the “exposure and education motivates people to protect the animals” (1). The definition of education is an “instructive or enlightened experience”, when children visit a zoo, do they really learn or foster an appreciation for animals? After visiting zoos, do people truly understand animals or express gratitude? And is it even possible to express gratitude to these animals? The only concept people learn is that “imprisoning” animals for our own entertainment is fine. They are not very educational, they are just a means for us to look at a variety of animals from different parts of the world we might not have been able to see if they weren’t forcibly brought into one location. We humans enforce the idea that humans have a right to the lives of animals to do whatever we want with them for our benefit. Zoos keep animals in “perfect” physical shape, but the conditions animals face in captivity cause them to develop severe behavioral problems.
Zoos are also seen as a place to visit that is a “wholesome family activity” where you can see animals in “a much more personal and more memorable experience than seeing that animal in a nature documentary” (1). This can be seen as an excuse, since animals can be seen or observed in their natural habitats or in sanctuaries. Unlike zoos, sanctuaries do not buy, sell, or breed animals but “take in unwanted exotic pets, surplus animals from zoos or injured wildlife that can no longer survive in the wild” (1).
Although zoos claim to save endangered species by bringing them into a safe environment, these species are not being saved. It might seem as though they are protected from poachers, starvation and predators but how do we know whether an animal feels saved? Or even wanted to be saved by being placed in a zoo. However there have been instances where animals escape their enclosures and endanger themselves, other animals, and the public. Some incidents involve animals eating other animals in the zoo. Another way zoos save endangered species is by breeding them. We are told that in the wild, these animals might not have been able to find a mate and might have had trouble breeding, but that can take a turn for the worse. According to the article, “For and Against Zoos”, taking animals from the wild will not save them, but rather endanger the population because the animals that remain will be “less genetically diverse and will have more difficulty finding mates” (1). The article also states that breeding may be harmful as well because “baby animals bring in visitors and money, but this incentive to breed new baby animals leads to overpopulation. Surplus animals are sold not only to other zoos, but also to circuses, canned hunting facilities, and even for slaughter” (1). You may think that they breed them in order to release them back into the wild, but the majority of programs don’t. The offspring of these zoo animals live the rest of their lives in zoos, circuses, petting zoos, and exotic pet trades that sell, barter, buy, and exploit animals. Ned the Asian elephant was born at an accredited zoo, but later confiscated from an abusive circus trainer and finally sent to a sanctuary. Even if they are endangered, we humans do not have a right to capture, and breed these animals because these animals should not and do not have fewer rights.
According to the article, “Animals for Entertainment”, “Some animal activists argue that the conservation argument is flawed. A zoo may be unable to keep a large enough number of individuals to provide a sufficiently varied gene pool for the species to breed without problem. Many animals are rare and hard to breed in captivity, removing specimens from the wild to zoos may result in the population falling… Returning animals to the wild is difficult, and the benefits to the overall species population do not compensate the individual animals for the negative effects of living in a zoo” (1). Would it be ethical to try to save a population, knowing individual animals suffer for it?
Another argument is that good zoos provide an enriched habitat where animals are never bored, have enough space, and are well cared for. But according to the article, “For or Against Zoos”, animals in captivity, “suffer from stress, boredom and confinement. Intergenerational bonds are broken when individuals get sold or traded to other zoos, and no pen or even drive-through safari can compare to the freedom of the wild. Studies have shown that elephants kept in zoos do not live as long as elephants in the wild” (1). Often, the public is told that these animals are well taken care of and enjoy life in the zoo.Zoos also claim to provide an enriched habitat and care by helping rehabilitate wildlife and taking in exotic pets that people no longer want or can no longer care for. However, you can argue that sanctuaries take in these animals, without breeding, buying, or selling them. There have been instances where some zoos euthanize or kill their surplus animals. While animals in zoos tend to live longer than if they were in the wild, these animals may become depressed and experience a “lower quality of life” where they can die eat an early age from mental illnesses or boredom. We should treat animals with dignity and really try to connect with animals. Are zoos goals of human care and conservation really being met?
According to Masson’s book, “When Animals Weep”, “loneliness a frequent result of confinement and domesticity, is often observed in captive animals, and is probably one factor causing death” (97). Imprisonment, loneliness, boredom, and sadness affect an animal’s well-being. For example, even if the captive animals are not confined in solitude, their imprisonment may make them sad. Masson also says, “It is often said of zoo animals that the way to tell if they are happy is to ask whether the young play and the adults breed. Most zookeepers would not accept this standard of happiness for themselves” (97).You could argue that not all animals suffer in zoos. It’s true that captivity is undoubtedly more painful to some animals than others. For example, “Lions seem to have less difficulty with the notion of lying in the sun all day than do tigers, yet even lions can be seen in many zoos pacing restlessly back and forth on the stereotyped motions seen in so many captive animals” (98). If an animal enjoys doing something, don’t you think limiting or taking away that thing it enjoys the most will upset the animal. As Masson states, “The concept of funktionslust, the enjoyment of ones abilities, also suggests it is opposite, the feeling of frustration and misery that overtakes an animal when its capacities cannot be expressed. If an animal enjoys using its natural abilities, it is also possible that the animal misses using them. Although a gradual trend in zoo construction and design is to make the cages better resemble the natural habitat, most zoo animals, particularly the larger ones, have no room to fly, cheetahs have no room to run, and goats have but a single boulder to climb” (98).
Although, zoos are regulated by the federal Animal Welfare Act, which establishes standards for care, the standards are not high. According to the article, “For or Against Zoos”, the federal Animal Welfare Act, “establishes only the most minimal standards for cage size, shelter, health care, ventilation, fencing, food and water. For example, enclosures must provide ‘sufficient space to allow each animal to make normal postural and social adjustments with adequate freedom of movement. Inadequate space may be indicated by evidence of malnutrition, poor condition, debility, stress, or abnormal behavior patterns.’ Violations often result in a slap on the wrist and the exhibitor is given a deadline to correct the violation. Even a long history of inadequate care and AWA violations, such as the history of Tony the Truck Stop Tiger, will not free the animals” (2).
Circuses, like zoos, also remove animals from their natural habitat and social structure, but they show slightly more overt displays of cruelty and suffering in animals. Unlike zoos, circuses and other types of animal places where they perform, don’t promise a high redeeming value, such as “education” or “conservation”. They also set a bad example for children, the underlying lesson that it’s acceptable for animals to be treated as objects for entertainment and amusement. They are for amusement and entertainment, but are the animals amused and entertained? No, you can bet that they aren’t, we only care about our amusement and entertainment. There are serious ethical concerns surrounding these venues. In the book, “The Animal Manifesto”, the author Bekoff states that, “Like humans, some animals show evidence that they are natural ‘performers’, but the business of animal entertainment is synonymous with abuse. Circuses deprive animals of any chance to have their emotional needs met; they’re an insult to both animals and humans and rob us all of our dignity” (157) For example, the article, “Animals in Circuses: Ringside Seats for a Spectacle of Cruelty”, says that “Baby elephants are forcibly removed from their mothers when they are 18 to 24 months old, breaking their spirits early in preparation for a lifetime of abuse” (1). Many circuses involve cruelty during the show, while training the animals, and in the way animals are kept and transported.
Animal activist, Donna Marino says, “Would you knowingly pay to watch an elephant jabbed with an electric prod until his body collapsed in pain? How about watch a lion prodded by a trainer with a steel hook until blood sports from one of his legs? For years circuses have abused animals to get them to perform tricks for the ‘entertainment’ of humans. Since animals do not naturally or voluntarily ride bicycles or jump through rings of fire, their trainers must force them to perform these tricks. During shows you may see trainers with whips, but you might not have been informed about their treatment behind the scenes. Is it not obvious that they suffer? Are these practices ethical? And if they are, why isn’t it told or shown to the public? She also says, “Because circus animals travel long distances on a grueling schedule in order to earn the most profit for their owners, there creatures are often confined for 20 hours or more a day in small cages. During that time, they cannot satisfy their needs and might not see the light of day until they’re unloaded for a performance” (156).
Circuses are also minimally covered by acts that should protect them. According to the article, “Ethics Guide: Animals for Entertainment”, like zoos there is not a lot of protection for entertainment animals on the state and federal level. Many of the animals are not covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act. In the article, “Enjoy the Circus? The Animals Don’t”, the author states that circuses provides inhumane care toward the animals that are not examined, “Even though the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets minimum standards of care, most itinerary stops are not inspected” (1). The “Ethics Guide” article also says that, “Many circus animals travel — for 11 months a year — in box cars without temperature control, nor separate spaces for sleeping, eating, and defecating…Frustrated by years of beatings, bull hooks, and shackles, some elephants snap. In more than 35 dangerous incidents since 2000, elephants have bolted from circuses, crashed into buildings, attacked members of the public, and killed and injured handlers” (2).
Animals in circuses are not happy nor healthy. According to Bekoff, “elephants spend between 72 to 96 percent of the time chained, big cars are confined to small cages upwards of 95 percent of the time, and horses are tethered up to 98 percent of the time.” Would a human performer put up with this? “ In February 2009, a suit was filed claiming that the circus advised elephants and used fear to get them to cooperate and perform, which challenged the circus’s claim that the elephants were happy, healthy and well cared for.” (142). And just like zoo animals, “captive bears engage in stereotyped back and forth pacing about 30 percent of the time. They display these movements in captivity that are not seen in the wild” (159). The website, AnimalEquality.com, says that in circuses animals’, “Natural behaviors are thwarted and they have to endure performances several times a day. Visitors to animal circuses learn nothing about the natural behavior of animals only that is acceptable to enslave them. The practice of enslaving animals and teaching them tricks implies that the animals’ own lives hold no inherent value in their own right”(1). If humans have rights and should not have to put up with conditions such as these, why should animal be any different?
According to the article, “Animals Used in Entertainment”, “Animals in circuses lead a life of endless confinement and constant physical abuse and psychological torment. They are trained and compelled to perform under threat of beatings and whippings” (1). Animals in circuses are kept in awful conditions. “Dogs are crammed into dirty cages and hardly ever let out. Birds are locked inside cramped cages, and their wings are clipped so they cannot fly. Horses are tethered on short ropes. Elephants are tied by three legs and regularly beaten to keep them docile” (1). These animals can also suffer after or when they cannot serve their use to the circus. The article also says that, “Animals are sometimes abandoned when the circus no longer can afford to keep them. For example, four sea lions, seven cats and seven dogs were burned to death in Andheri West, Mumbai, after being abandoned by the company which had brought them from Russia. An electric fire whipped through the locked rooms in which the animals were imprisoned in cages, killing all but three of them” (2).Recently, the Ringling brothers retired using elephants in its circus after 145 years of featuring elephants in their shows. These elephants will be sent to and live out the rest of their lives in conservation centers.
Venues like zoos and circuses help facilitate the exploitation and control of animals as commodities for our ends. Animals are captured, imprisoned, mistreated and abused for our entertainment. I believe that zoos and circuses cannot make a valid and justifiable argument about the benefits these places can provide them with. If people wish to physically see animals for the purpose of education or curiosity, they should visit sanctuaries. If they wish to be entertained, they can be at circuses that do not include animals. Zoos and circuses harm animals’ well-being and are proof of our lack of compassion and morals towards these sentient beings. Zoos argue that they save endangered species and educate the public, and circuses argue that they provide fun loving experiences, but those aren’t the really the cases. The suffering and violation of the rights of animals in zoos and circuses for our entertainment is unethical and unjustifiable. So we need to make a change and put these animals’ needs and rights before our self-importance and selfishness.