Just because something is the status quo, or “the existing state of affairs”, doesn’t mean that those affairs should exist. After all, it was once common knowledge that the Earth was flat with a sun revolving around it, and look at us now, heliocentric and everything.
Wild animals used in performances is one of those seemingly normal things that is recently being challenged by new information and burgeoning empathy. Access to wild beasts has shifted from only being able to see whatever the traveling circus brings to town, to instantaneous access to animal-related content online, and easier access to travel that brings people to where the animals live.
Perhaps most importantly, information about how performing animals are treated is easily shared, and more and more people are speaking with their voices and their dollars against the cruelty those animals suffer.
So there’s a new status quo shifting into the foreground, one where wild animals aren’t forced to perform under duress for audiences who may not know any better.
Here are 5 reasons to be hopeful for performing animals this year:
Giving credit where it’s due, the Circus has addressed concerns about the treatment of the wild animals in their show, particularly the elephants: they phased out the elephant acts and opened up a conservation center for the giant creatures in Florida. But it’s safe to say that the elephants, tigers, lions, and other megafauna forced to endure the hardship of training, performing, and life on the road, will be happier living their natural, wild lives. May of this year will see the curtain call for the Circus which has operated for almost 150 years. Such a big brand name in the world of performing animals shuttering will likely influence smaller operations that receive less scrutiny to follow suit.
San Diego will see the last of its killer whale shows this year, while San Antonio and Orlando will stop by 2019. At the start of this new year, Tilikum the orca passed away a martyr, having starred in the revealing documentary “Blackfish,” which exposed what captive orcas endure. 55 orcas remain in captivity around the world, and with SeaWorld’s promise to not only end shows, but end breeding programs that perpetuate captive orca numbers, that number will certainly go down.
Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has removed the final eight tigers kept at a facility where cubs were bred to pose for photos. According to their website, “facilities that offer public contact and photos with cubs are engaged in a never-ending cycle of cruelty. Big cats are constantly bred to produce cubs who, in turn, are disposed of when they get older, more dangerous to handle, and unprofitable.” PAWS’ work helps curb the exploitation of tigers, which is perpetrated by greedy people taking advantage of those who mistakenly think taking a photo with a cute cub has no consequences.
Across the world people are recognizing the suffering of captive wild animals forced to perform, including the quintessential dancing monkeys. Talk about challenging the status quo! In 2013 Jakarta performed a raid to round up masked monkeys made to perform on the street, while just last year Chinese citizens made complaints of animal cruelty about monkey performances. These backlashes are indicative of growing awareness about the conditions performing animals face, and public refusal to fund them any longer.
That whole “no animals were harmed during the filming of this movie” is misleading: it only references animal welfare while the cameras are rolling. Plenty of animals have suffered offscreen or during training, but people are starting to get wise to the loophole. PETA has filed complaints with the USDA alleging mistreatment of animals used in movies, which should bring the industry closer to closing that loophole.