Animals used in traveling shows and menageries are often subjected to severe abuse in order to force them to provide “entertainment” at county and state fairs, shopping malls, theme parks, schools, flea markets, nursing homes, birthday parties, and trade shows. Typical acts include petting zoos, “performing” primates, donkey basketball games, pig racing, and pig diving. At some events, members of the public can pay to have their photographs taken with tiger and lion cubs. The variations are limited only by the imagination of the exhibitors, who are looking to make an easy dollar. Baby animals are continuously bred for these shows and then discarded.
Rigorous training methods involving electric shocks, beatings, and food deprivation are used to force animals to perform acts that are unnatural and meaningless to them. Some trainers starve animals or surgically remove their teeth and claws.
Pig races at fairs are all too familiar, and they’ve taken on a new twist at events in which potbellied pigs are forced to swim in pools. Pigs are not aquatic animals by nature, and according to one pig caretaker, “a pig in the water is almost completely helpless and extremely stressed.”(1) These highly intelligent, sensitive animals are also stressed by the constant travel and the large, boisterous crowds.
Every year, schools, civic clubs, and recreation departments use donkey basketball games as fundraisers. During these games, donkeys are dragged around a court and mistreated by participants who have no animal-handling experience. “Uncooperative” animals are often punched, kicked, whipped, and screamed at, and many animals are prohibited from eating or drinking before games in order to prevent “accidents.”
Animals used in traveling acts are almost constantly confined to tiny transport cages or trailers. They suffer in extreme temperatures and are not provided with adequate food and water. The Zoo, a traveling animal exhibit run by Robert Engesser, has been repeatedly cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for inadequate animal care practices, including failure to provide proper diets, veterinary care, and environmental enrichment. On one visit, the inspecting veterinarian reported algae in the water buckets, a lion cub who was being fed inappropriate milk replacers, and a baboon who was being kept in solitary confinement and who was rolling her head and pacing, behaviors that indicate extreme mental distress.(2)
Without exercise, animals become listless and prone to illness, and as a reaction to stress and boredom, many resort to self-mutilation. Three 11-day-old tiger cubs who were being used for photo opportunities by a traveling zoo called Perry’s Exotic Petting Zoo became listless, nauseated, and dehydrated while on exhibit in Thornton, Colorado. They died without receiving veterinary care. The USDA inspector investigating the deaths wrote, “Transportation and handling stresses cannot be ruled out as contributing to their failed health.”(3) Undercover video showed that after the Amarillo Wildlife Refuge forced a tiger cub named Ziggy to work a six-hour photo shoot in the blazing-hot parking lot of a Sam’s Club store in Texas, the cub developed painful blisters on his paws from standing on the hot pavement all day.
While taking part in photo shoots with animals and watching them perform may seem like harmless fun for kids, it is anything but. Barbara Boat, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital Medical Center cautions, “An industry based upon the use and abuse of wild animals has no place in either the education or entertainment of young children. We need to be teaching empathy, compassion, and sensitivity to the interconnectedness of all life, not abusive domination of others.”(4)
Incidents in which animals attack spectators are common. A woman sought hospital treatment after she was bitten by an African lion cub exhibited by G.W. Exotic Animal Foundation at a Texas mall, where patrons were allowed to pet and interact with the lion.(5) A 4-year-old Florida girl suffered serious injuries, including a partially severed ear, when she was attacked by a cougar at a birthday party. The cougar had been provided by Wild Animal World, which had been cited at least twice previously for similar attacks.(6)
Please visit PETA.org to find out more about these incidents and to see the track records of other traveling exhibits, which indicate improper care and dangerous handling of animals.
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires that animal exhibitors be licensed by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. This is supposed to ensure that exhibitors meet the AWA’s minimal requirements regarding animal care. However, the USDA cannot realistically regulate or enforce the humane treatment of animals who are continuously on the road in an effective manner.
When you hear that an animal show is coming to town, you can take the following steps:
Don't allow the promoters of animal acts to pass off their exploitation of animals as entertainment. By educating others and showing that cruelty to animals is neither fun nor ethical, you can help stop animal exploitation.
1) Richard D. Hoyle, letter to PETA, 18 Aug. 2003.2) John Guedron, D.V.M., USDA Inspection Report 58-C-0295, 24 May 2001.3) Daryl Burden, D.V.M., USDA Inspection Report 42-C-0101, 27 Feb. 2003.4) Barbara Boat, Ph.D., letter to PETA, 23 Apr. 2004.5) “Lion Injures Mall Patron, Placed in Quarantine,” San Angelo Standard Times 23 Jan. 2007.6) David OValle, “Cougar Mauls Girl at Birthday Party,” The Miami Herald 7 Dec. 2006.
Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights? Read more.