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Performance Animals: What’s Behind the Facade

Animal cruelty has been a heavily monitored crime, but despite the harsh punishments and endless watch for crime, it is still very present across the world. Endangered animals such as giraffes are slaughtered at the hands of poachers seeking to make a large profit of selling the tail alone; animals such as dogs are used to fight each other for the entertainment of some; and chickens and pigs are forced into cruel living conditions and cruel slaughter houses to create food for human consumption. Although living conditions have improved drastically for almost all animals and animal cruelty is viewed as one of the most appalling crimes, there is still a form of animal cruelty unknown to many in the population. Despite a crackdown on animal cruelty, entire organizations managed to make large profits at the expense of the animals that they exploit.

When asked, almost all of the Friends students I talked to were unaware that they had participated in funding these types of organizations. After the release of a popular film Blackfish, many people became aware of the awful treatment of animals in SeaWorld. Unfortunately, many people are still unaware of the treatment in organizations similar to that of SeaWorld. Out of the ten people I spoke to, seven said they were aware of the unfair treatment of animals in SeaWorld. When I asked a different set of ten people, only one thought that the treatment of animals in Ringling brothers was unfair. These astounding numbers inspired me to reveal the truth about these greedy organization that capitalize on the helpless animals who are forced into something very similar to that of slavery. It is similar to slavery because they are forced to live in uncomfortable conditions where they don’t have enough space to properly mentally and physically stimulate themselves; they are only fed when they perform well, and if the trainers do not monitor the animals, often times the older animals will steal food from the younger animals. In some cases, animals that are misbehaving are beaten to severe injury, including sometimes death. The trainers are often indifferent to the animals, many of which are endangered.

Many students at Friends Academy have seen the world famous Shamu, the Killer Whale. Shamu has become a household name because of the whale’s ability to do almost exactly what the trainers want him to do; the whale is essentially a very well trained dog. I myself have seen the whale perform every time that I have been to Florida, which is about seven times. I have allowed myself to be blinded by the whale’s spectacular performance and beauty. When I saw the performance, I was too young to look deeper into the whale and properly analyze how it had been so well trained. I was amazed by the discipline, so shocked that I did not even ask, “How did they train that animal?” Now that I am much wiser than I was eight years ago, I am capable of realizing the possible bad ethics at hand. After watching the whale perform, my goal was to train my dog to perform, behave, and listen as well as Shamu. Unfortunately, I never succeeded in training my dog that well.

Throughout my life, I have been taught that the means justify the ends and the ends justify the means, leading me to make wrong and sometimes harmful decisions. Not only have I now discovered the bad ethics at SeaWorld, but I have also started to question the ethics at many other world renowned places, such as the Ringling Brothers Circus and the zoo.

SeaWorld has often been a topic of controversy among interest groups that try to protect animals. SeaWorld has also been a topic of cheerful discussion and excitement for many children. It was not until CNN released a documentary, Blackfish, focusing on the poor treatment of killer whales that the public realized SeaWorld treated these whales unethically. The documentary was very credible because it was produced by CNN, a fairly moderate cable network. After CNN exposed SeaWorld, the issue became a national problem instead of a liberal vs. conservative problem. The documentary reveals the mental abuse that animals in captivity endure. Large animals such as Shamu, who need miles of ocean to properly mentally and physically engage themselves, are forced into tiny pools and forced to perform until they are on the brink of exhaustion. Often times, these animals perform three shows or more a day, since they make the largest profit. CNN did a great job of legitimizing the protests of animal interest groups, but unfortunately CNN did not go far enough. Even after watching the documentary, many people were still unaware of the unlawful treatment of animals in places such as zoos. CNN left many questions unanswered. Before the CNN documentary was released, animal rights groups had already been protesting the treatment of animals in zoos and aquariums, but they were unable to make the issue a national dilemma. After the release of Blackfish, the condition of the animals imprisoned in the pools has improved greatly; now, they perform in fewer shows and SeaWorld has stopped training large animals such as Shamu. Unfortunately, CNN has not revealed the truth behind zoos and similar organizations. The public view on the training, housing, and treatment of offspring in zoos, aquariums, and other forms of captivity has not changed enough for all the animals in captivity.

The training of the animals at these organizations is now seen as an issue because the animals are often physically abused at a young age. Abusing animals at a young age is easier than it would for a fully-grown animal. This is why trainers usually beat animals at young ages: to show that the trainer is dominant. It would be incredibly difficult for a trainer to beat a fully-grown animal such as an elephant, which would defend itself when attacked. One of the tools used in the training of elephant is a bull hook—essentially a large wooden stick with a sharp metal hook on the end. Many trainers justify the use of such a tool because they believe it is an extension of the arm. Elephants are believed to have tough skin, but this is not entirely true. Elephants will often roll in mud or put dusts on their back to protect themselves from the sun. Because it is tough to control a fully-grown elephant, trainers try to enforce their dominance on young elephants. Trainers assert themselves by abusing the animals when they are very young; the purpose of beating young elephants is so that a trainer can just show a bull hook and the elephant will understand that it has misbehaved and that if it continues, it may be harmed by the tool.

Trainers also use chains as abusive tools in the training process. Ringling Brothers uses these chains to confine the large animals. Not allowing the large animals to roam also causes mental stress on them. Usually elephants have chains on at least two of their legs, limiting the elephant’s ability to interact with other animals and behave as a normal elephant would. Along with not interacting like normal elephants would, circus elephants are forced to rest uncomfortably. The elephants usually perform in indoor arenas or similar areas; these areas often aren’t covered in dirt. The elephants have not properly adapted to the more urban environment, and because of this they are often hurt from walking on tough surfaces. Dirt is important for the elephants because they have not adapted to walking on concrete. Forcing elephants to walk on hard surfaces has been proven to lead to injuries in the elephant’s legs such as arthritis, an injury to the joint that causes incurable stiffness and pain. Ringling Brothers are entirely to blame for this: there are many simple solutions that would protect the elephants, but Ringling Brothers neglects the care and needs of their animals. These chains also cause mental problems such as stereotypic behavior. Stereotypic behavior is the result of the social animal being chained up and prevented from interacting with other animals. Elephants exhibit the effects of stereotypic behavior when they begin to wobble. Chains are also used in the transportation of these elephants: they are forced onto a train where they will be chained by two legs and forced to stand up until they reach the destination.

Ringling Brothers has praised itself for its efforts in helping the population of elephants grow, but the organization recently attracted controversy for the death of three young elephants. Originally populated all throughout Africa and Asia, the elephant population has severely decreased because of the ivory trade. Many of these animals are being killed for their tusks. Once the animal is dead, poachers will often steal the tusks and leave the animal to rot, maybe not even killing the animal but leaving it to die. Poachers then turn the tusks into jewelry or another craft and then sell it for a large profit. The World Wildlife Fund has listed all elephants as vulnerable to endangerment because of the illegal hunting. Ringling Brothers claims to be a safer alternative for elephants than living in the wild, but with the death of three of their young elephants this claim has come into question. One of the elephants named Charlie tragically died when swimming in a small river. Elephants enjoy swimming, but when the master called the elephant, Charlie did not come out of the water. The trainer then showed Charlie the bull hook. Charlie then attempted to swim away but had a heart attack and drowned to death. This awful death was caused by the incredibly harmful treatment of the Ringling Brothers staff.

I remember enjoying the wonderful show and speaking excitedly with my grandmother about the performance of the animals. If I had known the truth behind the performance, I would have known that this is nothing to cheer about.

One Comment

  1. Carol Van Auken June 10, 2016

    Another really great article, Chris!

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