Many people die fighting for freedom—most captive animals die without ever seeing it.
Animals who would normally spend their entire lives with their close-knit families are sentenced to an eternity of boredom, crippling loneliness—and even sheer terror.
Zoos claim to educate people and preserve species, but they usually fall short on both counts. Animals' normal behavior is seldom discussed, much less observed, because their natural needs are rarely met. Even the largest of zoo enclosures cannot compare to the vastness of an animal's natural habitat, and the signs on these enclosures provide little more information than an animal's species, diet, and natural range. The only thing zoos teach people is that it is acceptable to control every aspect of an animal's life.
Zoos present us with a distorted view of wildlife—we're better off watching nature documentaries, reading about animals in books or on Web sites, or traveling to animals' natural habitats. In addition, zoos often push animals over the brink of sanity. Animals in zoos despair so much over their lack of space, privacy, physical exercise, and mental stimulation that they often resort to self-mutilation and other abnormal and self-destructive behaviors, displaying a mental condition that experts call "zoochosis."
As for conservation, most animals kept in zoos are neither endangered nor being prepared for release into the wild. Species that are endangered rarely benefit from zoos' breeding programs, because the babies often die in captivity. Ultimately, we will only save endangered species by preserving their habitat and combating the reasons why they are killed by people in the first place.
Tanks and aquariums at marine parks may be huge to us, but to dolphins and orcas, they're nothing more than "kiddie pools." These graceful, beautiful creatures normally swim up to 161 kilometers a day, but there is only so much swimming that an animal can do inside a box of chlorinated water. They navigate by echolocation, bouncing sonar waves off other objects to determine their shape, density, distance, and location, but in tanks, the reverberations from their sonar bounce off the walls, driving some of these animals insane.
And let's not forget how they got there in the first place. Boats chase dolphin pods to shallow waters, where it's easier to net them. Unwanted dolphins are tossed back into the water. Some die of shock and stress; babies of pregnant dolphins are spontaneously aborted. At the marine park, trainers force the dolphins to do tricks by withholding food and by keeping them isolated. For an animal who is used to having hundreds of other podmates around, this is torture.
In the wild, dolphins can live into their 40s and 50s. But more than 80 percent of captive dolphins whose ages could be determined died before the age of 20. Wild orcas can also live for decades—some have been documented to be more than 90 years old—but those at Subic and other marine parks rarely survive for more than 10 years. Causes of death include swallowing coins, succumbing to heatstroke, and swimming in contaminated water—some even commit suicide.
Read more about marine mammal parks.
Animals would never run away to join the circus—in fact, they'd probably run away from the circus if they could! Unlike human performers who choose to be clowns or trapeze artists, elephants and tigers never volunteered to stand on balls or jump through burning hoops. Trainers routinely beat and whip animals in order to make them repeatedly perform tricks that make no sense to them. Trainers have been known to use electric prods or even blowtorches on these animals. The most "difficult" animals are drugged, and their teeth and claws are sometimes removed to make the animals easier to handle.
But that doesn't mean the animals don't sometimes "snap" under pressure. Since 1990, PETA US has documented 65 human deaths and more than 130 injuries attributable to captive elephant rampages. Read more about elephant attacks.
Animals used by circuses suffer even when they're not performing or training. They endure days of being boxed in uncomfortable cages, sometimes in the middle of heat waves, traveling from one city to the next. They're rarely given medical attention, on or off the road. And during the off-season, they're kept in traveling crates, barn stalls, or even trucks, where they are stashed and promptly forgotten.
Think the days of gladiators are over? Think again. Roosters, horses, dogs, and other animals are modern-day "gladiators," pitted against each other and forced to fight, often to the point of death—all for the "amusement" of onlookers.
In their natural environments, animals might fight over mates, food, or territory and to establish their dominance, but they rarely fight to the death. When they are used in blood sports, however, the only way out of the fight is winning—or dying.
Cockfighters hack off roosters' wattles and combs (the flesh at the top of their heads and under their beaks) before a fight in order to prevent other roosters from doing the mutilating themselves. The birds' natural spurs (the bony protrusions on their legs) are cut off so that cockfighters can strap on razor-sharp, 2-inch steel blades that are capable of puncturing lungs and gouging eyes. Cockfighting is all about gambling. Even in places where the blood sport is legal, the money involved and the inherently violent nature of cockfights can lead to violence among cockfighters, bird breeders, and spectators. Illegal drugs are also commonly found at cockfights.
Read more about cockfighting.
Bird flu has also created controversies in the cockfighting world. In Thailand, breeders helped spread the dreaded H5N1 strain of the virus when they hid game fowl and moved them to other farms instead of allowing them to be culled. In the Philippines, which is home to a billion-dollar cockfighting industry and the World Slasher Cup (also known as the World Series of cockfighting), breeders and cockfighters have sworn to resist government efforts to cull birds if bird flu reaches Philippine shores.
Read more about bird flu.
During horse fights, two stallions battle over a mare in heat. Before the match begins, trainers have the stallions sniff the mare—who is injected with hormones every day to keep her in heat—to put them in a fighting mood. They fight until one of the horses runs away. In dogfights, pit bulls bite at each other's necks, legs, and testicles until one dies or turns away. These normally friendly animals are bred for aggression and reportedly some may be on steroids. The Philippine Animal Welfare Act expressly prohibits horse fights and dogfights—but is conspicuously silent on the matter of cockfighting. All three kinds of animal fights remain rampant in the country.
For many equine "athletes," injury and death are always just a hoofbeat away. Thoroughbred racehorses are a "genetic mistake"—their legs are far too small to support their bulk, and they're forced to run at speeds greater than 48 kilometers an hour with people on their backs. It's not surprising, then, to find that an estimated 800 thoroughbreds die from injuries every year in North America. And because horses cost a lot of money to keep, they're often sold to slaughterhouses when they don't perform as well as their owners think they should. Before they are slaughtered, many horses are turned into "junkies" by their trainers and veterinarians, who provide drugs to keep them racing even when they shouldn't be on the track because of their injuries. Even if the horses manage to hold on to a winning streak until their retirement, they're rarely treated well afterward. They can be sold and resold in rapid succession and may even wind up in slaughterhouses. Some are killed for insurance money.
Read more about the horseracing industry.
Sure, onscreen they may seem like natural "actors" with the ability to ham it up like no other. But animals used in movies and television don't lead pampered lives like many of their human counterparts do.
Animals are confused by the things that directors and trainers expect them to do when the cameras are rolling. The only reason they perform these confusing acts is to escape the abuse that's bound to be waiting for them if they don't obey, including physical abuse: A primatologist who spent 14 months working undercover for a facility that trains great apes for film and television saw trainers kick and punch the animals to make them be obedient.
In this age of computer-generated imagery and animatronics—think King Kong—there is absolutely no need for real animals to be on the sets of TV shows and films.
Read more about animal "actors."