Animals in Entertainment

Posted on 06/14/10 in , No Comments

Enforce the eradication of the senseless killing and mistreatment of animals in entertainment.

Animals in Entertainment Policy

The idea that it is funny to see wild animals coerced into acting like clumsy humans, or thrilling to see powerful beasts reduced to cringing cowards by a whip-cracking trainer, is primitive and medieval.

There is no shortage of evidence to show that the training necessary to teach circus animals to perform tricks is brutal. It is simply not possible to train wild animals without using deprivation or by beating them into submission.(ZooCheck,Canada,2006).(


Formidable animal welfare challenges exist around Australia with regard to the unnatural use of animals in commercially-operated entertainment enterprises.  These enterprises include: performing animal circuses; rodeos; horse and greyhound racing; jumps racing; zoos and exhibits such as travelling farm shows (with animals for petting). Broadly defined, ‘entertainment’ also covers such pursuits as recreational hunting.

Circuses and rodeos are two significant examples of the abuse of animals, as the animals are forced to perform acts that are, of their nature, unnatural and it is on the enforcement of these acts that profits depend. These industries are profit driven, with ongoing profit driving further animal cruelty. While rodeos and bull-riding appear more violent to animals than circuses, given that their success as entertainment depends on the amount of violence that can be generated, behind the scenes in circuses the mistreatment of animals in training regimes is often cruel and violent in the extreme. This has been documented, worldwide, in video evidence.

The Animal Justice Party believes that animals should be enjoyed, appreciated, respected and cared for in terms of their natural behaviours, whether wild or domesticated, not terrified as they perform unnatural behaviours under the whip or, as victims, goaded into violent action to provide opportunities for humans to demonstrate ‘skills’ in taunting and subduing them for audiences’ amusement.

The AJP seeks a uniform nationwide response to animals in entertainment and an Australia-wide ban, through Federal legislation, of such ‘entertainments’ as animal circuses, rodeos (in which the abuse of animals is necessary for the commercial success of the venture), bull riding and similar activities.  The AJP is opposed, in particular, to state legislation that exempts animal entertainment from exhibited animal protection legislation, such as is proposed in NSW.

Ethical considerations

What is particularly damaging about the culture of exploitative animal entertainment is the impact on children’s education, moral development and future attitudes to animals. Owners of performing animal shows, such as circuses and rodeos, characteristically pitch their advertising at the ‘family’ audience, so, at circuses in particular, young children form a substantial portion of the audience. Everything about this situation is wrong. From an educational perspective, it conveys to impressionable children only misinformation about animals and their behaviour and feelings, and fails to model how human beings should respect and treat them. It encourages children to believe that it is right to force animals to behave unnaturally, or even grotesquely, in fear of punishment, and that it is acceptable and enjoyable for people to laugh at them in this demeaning predicament.

Exposing young children to such displays contradicts all that is being achieved in the classroom and in other educational environments in terms of teaching children to understand, appreciate and respect animals, whether in the wild or in their own domestic care, and in terms of animals’ natural behaviour – whether they are exotic or domesticated. The original circus culture of the travelling human freak show has long been relegated to the shameful annals of human history; but the travelling performing animal circus is a tragic remnant of that barbaric culture. It is a poor reflection of modern Australian moral and ethical standards that children, in particular, should be encouraged to support and admire such abhorrent displays.

First-class circus entertainment abounds, featuring human performers who have a choice whether or not they perform, do not have to perform if they are unwell, are not kept in cages when they are not performing and are not trained to perform by being punished. Circus Oz, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus and Cirque du Soleil are just three examples that prove that the circus tradition can be sustained without any performing animals or human freaks. Their owners and supporters are firmly opposed to performing animal circuses. Pierre Parisien of Cirque du Soleil comments: ‘We will never have animals in our shows. They are animals not performers’.

All the ‘five freedoms’ that animals should experience: freedom from hunger and thirst; from discomfort; from pain, injury and disease; to express normal behaviour; and from fear and distress are affronted in one way or another by performing animal entertainments.

Animal welfare

Research has shown that inadequate diet and housing, and the effects of repeated performances throughout the lives of circus animals, lead to significant health problems. Circus animals are travelling frequently and, in Australia, over vast distances. The associated forced movement, human handling, noise, trailer travel, confinement in caged wagons for long periods (often in excessive heat) are all injurious to animal welfare.

The training of animals for performance is conducted through regimes of fear and punishment, the use of bullhooks, whips, metal spikes, hot plates and electric prods being standard so that animals learn to obey through terror of punishment and pain. The ringmaster with his whip is an age-old animal circus image. If, as circus owners always claim, animals ‘enjoy’ performing, why do they have to be whipped into it? Several websites have exposed the behind the scenes abuses to which circus animals are routinely subjected and the misery of their existences out of the spotlight. For example,;

Rodeos and bull riding depend for the success of their shows on the advertised ‘thrills and spills’ of the event. Animals are used and abused violently and cruelly in these exhibitions, the success of the show depending on the ability of riders to physically dominate and subdue the most extremely ‘misbehaving’ animals. Animals at rodeos are routinely dashed to the ground, bashed against fences, wrestled, roped, injured, terrified and tormented. Rodeo cruelty is regularly featured in news reports in states such as South Australia: It is precisely in terms of cruelty to animals that these shows are advertised and promoted, and it is exactly this cruelty, that audiences come to see (as they do, for example, at bullfights, cockfights or dogfights). Rodeo animals routinely and unsurprisingly suffer catastrophic injuries, such as broken limbs and backs, all in the name of ‘entertainment’.

Legislative considerations

Attempts, over many years, Australia wide, to eradicate circuses and rodeos have been frustrated by the regulation of these entertainments on a state-by-state basis through the respective state government departments concerned with animal welfare and ‘exhibited animals’ legislation. Successful activism has been focused on achieving local government bans on performing animal circuses and rodeos in many local council areas, in various states and territories, but the Australian Capital Territory is the only state or territory to have a ban on performing animal shows – in place since 1996.

The problem with such bans is that they are piecemeal and also can be easily overturned, simply through changes in council membership or a new application being submitted by circus owners. Council bans do not apply to private land within any council’s area, so even if a ban can be enforced at a local council level, circuses accustomed to visiting the area will then apply successfully to a private organisation in the same region for the use of its land.

This AJP policy should be read in association with the following other policy:

  • Jumps racing.