After a year and a half of staying at home and with the blockages in retrospect, most of us have an almost visceral urge to get back to normal. But if the coronavirus crisis has taught us anything, it’s that the way we once did things can – and sometimes must – change. This mindset should also apply to animal shows on the state and county fair circuit. Kids’ zoos, big cat photo ops, pony turnstiles, elephant and camel rides and the like need to be removed from the history books.
Now that state, county and local fairs are resuming, the animals face months of debilitating transportation in stuffy semi-trailers and an exhausting onslaught of interaction with fair visitors. Animals that naturally avoid human contact are forced to engage with the audience over and over again. Their every move is controlled by those who see them as nothing more than property used for profit.
Several week old baby tigers – who should be with their mothers, breastfeed – are used as photo props. Elephants are hit with hooks – heavy batons with a sharp steel hook on the end – to make them walk in endless circles and take walks. Sea lions are stuck in travel tanks barely larger than their own bodies and forced to perform.
Then there’s the middle, where the value of animal life is reduced to a dollar as people shell out over a dollar to see the “world’s biggest rat” (usually a shy South American mammal called capybara). Goldfish offered as ping-pong prizes often die before they even reach the parking lot.
And pity the poor “farm animals”. Instead of the comfort and privacy they deserve, the cows are placed on stakes and forced to give birth in front of loud crowds. Ponies are excluded from protection under the Federal Animal Welfare Act, so they can be hung from turnstiles and forced to work until they fall. Smart, sensitive pigs are covered in fat or mud, and then adult males try to “push” them into plastic barrels.
After being pushed, picked up, run, ridden and manhandled at one location, the animals are loaded and transported to the next site. The logistics of getting from one place to another on a tight schedule doesn’t allow for downtime to let them rest and recuperate. Veterinarians do not travel in these trailers. Sick or injured animals may not be treated.
Does anyone in authority oversee these traveling exhibitions? The simple answer is no. The US Department of Agriculture oversees animal exhibitors, but because these shows are constantly on the move, it’s impossible to know how many animals are suffering and dying along the way.
By all means, bring back the Beach Boys and the Fried Oreos, but it’s high time that cruel animal displays gave way to fresh and innovative displays that appeal to a generation that cares about animals and our planet.
Jennifer O’Connor is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.
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