The use of animals in entertainment has a long history, starting from the amphitheaters of the Roman Empire. At that time, along with gladiators’ combats, the entries of hunting and killing bears, bulls, and exotic African animals, were often presented to the public.
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However, at present, the ethical issues in this field became the matter of utmost importance, perhaps due to mass character and an unprecedentedly wide variety of the ways the animals are used in the entertainment industry. It has been proven that the level of animals’ life in such circumstances is deplorable; apart from being withdrawn from their natural environment, they experience abuse and exploitation by people. Their basic needs, such as their natural habitat and appropriate alimentation, are not met, and they are affected physically and mentally. With this concern, the measures to be taken against it often become a matter of discussion, with the question of whether the use of animals for entertainment be continued.
In this paper, the position which denies the right to continue animals’ use for entertainment purpose is taken. First, the various methods of such use will be discussed. After that, there will be examined several aspects of the problem. It will include the arguments in support of this position, such as the impact of the unnatural environment on animals, and the forms of their exploitation and their correlation with ethical norms. In turn, the concern of moral rights will lead to the question about animals’ mental and cognitive abilities.
Methods of the Use of Animals in Entertainment
The first group of institutions of the entertainment industry includes zoos, aquaria, and animal parks. As argued by Scanes, two approaches might be considered here, in the mode of people’s interaction with the animals. The first, “noncaptive” wildlife tourism includes ecotourism, nature adventure, and photographic safari, while “captive” related to visiting zoos, animal parks, aquaria, i.e., the places where animals are in some way under observation and control, experiencing different levels of human intervention (Scanes).
Modern zoos were developed from public menageries, such as Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna, established in 1752, and the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris, which opened in 1793; later they were followed by the London Zoo and the Berlin Zoo. Initially, zoos were created for scientific purposes, as well as conservational as many of them contained endangered animals. Along with that, they served as a place for public education, where the visitors could explore the fragment of the wild nature and its inhabitants. At the same time, aquaria were constructed “for public enjoyment, profit, civic/national pride, and as anchors for economic development” (Scanes 227). As it could be observed, these institutions from the very beginning of their existence were expected to serve the purpose of humans, rather than animals.
The second group contains circuses, animal TV shows and movies, animal riding, or racing (using dogs, horses, camels, or pigeons). The shows are often organized in the form of competition; thus, the USA state fair usually includes livestock, poultry, horse, and rabbit competitions; dog show is one of the most common and publically appreciated practices. In this group, pleasure carriages may also be considered, which are horse-driven vehicles for tourist entertainment.
The third group includes “consumptive” (Scanes) types of entertainment, such as hunting, shooting, and fishing. A famous example is fox hunting in the UK, which is a matter of extensive discussion, considering the question of animal ethics. In addition, some less common, exotic types of entertainment with animals involved, could be named, such as bullfighting. It can be found in Spain, Venezuela, Peru, Columbia, Mexico, and Ecuador. In many countries or provinces, it is banned now, which tells about raising awareness of moral issues in this regard.
The Impact of the Artificial Environment on Animals
The most obvious case of changing the natural environment and its implementation in animals’ welfare is the zoo. Though many zoos, mostly in major cities, well-founded and caring for their prestige, claim to be able to create the conditions as close as possible to the natural habitat of animals, it is possible only to some extent. Unfortunately, many of them are not due to the inevitable limitations of the resources but due to the lack of awareness and ethical concern of the staff. The following case study, described by Berkoff, will illustrate it.
The Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington decided to double the number of animals without the preparation for the space allocated for the new animals. As there were no exhibit slots for them, the newly acquired animals were placed together with previous exponents, often mixing them. In this way, the hornbill birds were put in the wallaby exhibit,
which stressed the wallaby and made him bloody his nose as he tries to run away. Thus, the results of this campaign were tragic, and many animals got injured or died.
As Berkoff (98) further discusses, zoos take primary care of animals, which are “fed and watered,” but the problem is that all their life activities are scheduled by people. They are fed “at set times,” their “social grouping are manipulated,” even “deaths are scheduled and orchestrated by veterinarians” (Berkoff 98). In such circumstances, the instincts of animals fail to find stimuli, and it causes a change in behavior, which alters their biological system.
Berkoff (106) asks: “What do zooed animals want?” if they seem to be adequately fed and maintained. The answer is, “they want to live in a setting in which they can engage the repertoire of evolved behaviors that define them as a species” (106). Moreover, created for the purpose of public education, zoos, in fact, cannot provide it as the human-made environment is far from the authentic habitat (Malamud 397). It indicates that the zoo, even when providing comfort, cannot fulfill the basic need of animals; therefore, it is an argument against its existence.
The Forms of Exploitation of Animals in Entertainment
In the history use of animals in the entertainment industry, different kinds of cruelty, abuse, and exploitation were observed. It includes deliberate abuse, such as shooting, stabbing, and beating, torturing, or setting on fire. They can also be neglected to be provided with necessary food or veterinary care, which should include not only disease treatment, but also prophylactic and prevention measures. Overall, it may be observed that human interests are mostly considered more than those of animals.
It is interesting to mention scientists’ observations on the connection between animal cruelty and criminal violence; a large number of criminals are observed to commit acts of animal cruelty before, especially in their childhood (Scane 241). Thus, animals become the subjects for expression the aggression, anger, as they are those who cannot reply to human actions and, along with that, are supposed not to be conscious, which is the matter of the section of the discussion.
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The Question of Animal Cognition
The matter of presence on animals’ cognitive abilities is long discussed among scientists problem. The process of cognition refers to “mental processes that are presumed to occur within animals, but which cannot be observed directly” (Benz-Schwarzburg 15). Cognition, in turn, is defined as an ability of “manipulation of explicit knowledge” (Benz-Schwarzburg 15), which results in some kinds of social interaction, problem-solving, and language.
At present many scientists find proof of the presence of these phenomena in animals; however, the issue needs further investigation. In light of this, the ethical concern about animal treatment becomes more distinct. The presence of thought and feeling in animals makes it closer to humans, eliminating the borderline between them (Fischer) and making reconsider the difference in human and animal law (Kelch). As a result of this reconsideration, the use of animals without concern about their rights becomes incompatible with the norms of the moral community.
In this paper, the problem of the use of animals in entertainment was investigated from the position that it is contradictory to the ethical norms of modern society. Methods of such use, as well as entertainment institutions, are considered with the benefit and interests of humans, rather than animals. As a result, cruelty and exploitation of animals become common practices. However, considering the modern scientific theory about the presence of cognitive abilities in animals, this practice has to be eradicated according to the norms of society based on moral principles and law.
Bekoff, Mark, and Jessica Pierce. The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age. Beacon Press, 2017.
Benz-Schwarzburg, Judith. Cognitive Kin, Moral Strangers? Linking Animal Cognition, Animal Ethics & Animal Welfare. BRILL, 2019.
Fischer, Bob. The Routledge Handbook of Animal Ethics. Routledge, 2019.
Kelch, Thomas G. Globalization and Animal Law: Comparative Law, International Law and International Trade. 2nd ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2017.
Malamud, Randy. “The problem with Zoos.” The Oxford Handbook of Animal Studies, edited by Linda Kalof, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 297-410.
Scanes, Colin. “Animals in Entertainment.” Animals and Human Society, edited by Colin G. Scanes and Samia Toukhsati, Academic Press, 2017, pp. 225–255.