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Wild animals have been used to entertain people throughout history, from those forced to fight in arenas in Ancient Rome to those performing and showcased in present-day zoos, aquariums, and circuses.
Wild animals used for entertainment are not like cats, dogs, and other animals that have been domesticated over hundreds and thousands of years. Some wild animals are bred in captivity but many are caught in the wild, often illegally. Not only have domestic animals been domestic for many centuries, but they were originally chosen for the physical and psychological traits that make them ideal as companion animals. Wild animals used in entertainment, even if they have been bred in captivity, do not have these traits. They have needs that are much more difficult to meet than those of domestic animals, and many have the strength to seriously injure or kill humans.
Circuses have entertained humans around the world for hundreds of years. Although a circus show can be amusing and it may look like the animals are in good condition, there are many problems with the way animals in circuses are treated.
In the wild, these animals live in rich environments. In circuses they live and travel in small cages known as “beast wagons.” As part of the circus they are almost always travelling and spend the majority of their time in these cages where they eat, sleep, defecate, and urinate. Their social, psychological, and behavioural needs cannot be met under these conditions and many die prematurely as a result. Behaviours that indicate a poor environment, and which are common among circus animals, include head-wagging, licking, pacing, self–mutilation, and aggression.
Although they seem to be tame, these animals still have their inherent wild instincts and can be very dangerous when provoked, causing injury and/or death to humans.
In North America, most circus animals are bred in captivity, but this is not necessarily the case in other countries. There are no federal or provincial laws for performing animals and, although people can be charged with animal cruelty under the federal Criminal Code for serious neglect or cruelty towards performing animals, such cases are rare. Despite regulations governing wildlife trade, these regulations are not effectively enforced particularly in relation to circuses, making it easy for circuses to acquire wild animals illegally.
Training methods used for animals in entertainment are also problematic. The best method of training animals to perform is through reward-based training, but this takes time and patience, and many circuses resort to inhumane methods such as beating and using electrical prods to get their animals to perform. If animals don’t perform, business is lost, and making animals perform becomes a priority over animal welfare.
Wild animals in zoos also have complex physical, behavioural, and psychological needs. These needs are becoming more apparent as scientific research is more readily available, and some zoos still keep animals in small enclosures that do not meet the needs of these animals. For more information, see Zoos.
Aquariums have become very popular, particularly those showcasing beluga whales, orcas, and dolphins. However, while aquariums can adequately provide for the needs of some marine mammals×such as seals and smaller sea animals×it is not possible to meet the needs of larger aquatic mammals, such as whales and dolphins, in aquariums. In the wild cetaceans swim long distances and have many behavioural patterns and social needs that cannot be provided for in captivity. For more information see Marine Mammals in Captivity.Print this page