Tag Archives: roadside zoos

Other animal exploiters would be wise to follow Ringling’s example

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Nearly 40 orcas have died on SeaWorld’s watch.

By Craig Shapiro

The writing on the wall couldn’t have been clearer: protests outside every venue, empty seats inside and a seismic shift in the public’s attitude toward keeping animals in captivity and beating them until they perform. After years of stonewalling, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus finally acknowledged the message. A blatant animal exploiter since its inception almost 150 years ago, it announced this month that it’s going dark in May.

For the animals in the circus, the final show can’t come soon enough. But if Ringling — whose trainers kept elephants in chains and beat them with bullhooks (heavy batons with a sharp steel hook on one end) and will keep whipping lions and tigers until the curtain falls — can acknowledge that the days of abusing animals are coming to an end, how long will it be before other circuses follow suit?

Not long: Cole Bros. Circus folded its tent last year, the Big Apple Circus recently filed for bankruptcy and audiences are sparse at Shriners-sponsored circuses.

The public is rightfully appalled by the horrific abuse that circuses like Carson & Barnes inflict on animals, such as viciously beating elephants until they scream, as well as by the negligence that has allowed elephants to escape and run amok. The U.S. Department of Agriculture filed charges against the circus for two 2014 incidents that put elephants and the public at risk.

In the first, three elephants were on the run for nearly an hour after being frightened by a raucous crowd in Missouri. Two of them were injured. A month later in Pennsylvania, an adult and child got dangerously close to an elephant and took a photo. Carson & Barnes is lucky that this grievous safety violation didn’t result in catastrophe: Elephants who are forced to perform in the circus and spend their lives in chains have been known to snap.

The Kelly Miller Circus has a sordid history of federal Animal Welfare Act violations, including public endangerment and failure to provide veterinary records. The outfit still hauls an aging African elephant named Anna Louise around the country. She was taken from her home and family in Zimbabwe and has spent three decades alone, even though these intelligent, social beings need the companionship of other elephants in order to thrive.

Animal abuse and exploitation aren’t limited to circus tents. Orcas, dolphins and other marine animals imprisoned in SeaWorld’s aquatic circuses are also denied everything that’s natural and important to them. But the abusement park is beginning to see the writing on the wall.

Bowing to public pressure and a ruling by the California Coastal Commission, it ended its orca-breeding program in 2016.

It has said, though, that it will keep holding orcas in tiny concrete tanks, where they could languish for decades — if they live that long — unless they’re released to seaside sanctuaries, where they could swim free, socialize and experience some semblance of a natural life.

Nearly 40 orcas have died on SeaWorld’s watch, including Tilikum, the subject of the lauded documentary Blackfish. His death on January 5, after more than three decades in captivity, moved compassionate people around the world. But the sea change in public opinion isn’t new: The company’s attendance and profits have been tanking for years, and as a result, 320 employees were recently laid off.

It’s high time that Carson & Barnes Circus, the Kelly Miller Circus, SeaWorld and other animal exploiters followed Ringling’s example and did what’s right: Empty the tanks and unlock the cages.

2016 was a good year for animals

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Rose rescued Cece in 2016 …  pic: R.T.

The Worcester Animal Rescue League on Holden Street is where Rose got her Husky-Mountain Feist cross “Jett,” the late great Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever “Bailey” and beautiful brindle greyhound-lab cross “Grace.” All homeless dogs that needed to be rescued!

If you can’t adopt a homeless cat or dog – do the next best thing: VOLUNTEER on behalf of animals. There are infinite ways to help! A good place to start is  WARL (open to the public 7 days a week, noon to 4 p.m.)! To learn more and see their dogs and cats up for adoption, CLICK HERE!       – R.T.

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Lots happened in 2016 besides the election

By Jennifer O’Connor

Most Americans are still feeling a bit frayed by the divisiveness of the presidential election. It’s easy to feel jaded and worn out, and many commentators are happy to see the end of 2016.

But while it was easy to get caught up in the more lurid headlines, a ton of uplifting things happened in the past year, particularly for animals used in the entertainment industry.

Let’s begin with elephants. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which has been forcing elephants to travel and perform for more than a century, pulled the animals off the road in May. They will no longer be chained up and hauled around in fetid boxcars. When a circus as big as Ringling makes a decision like that, you know the days of performing elephants are numbered.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore also made a precedent-setting decision: It will send the eight dolphins currently in its possession to a coastal sanctuary. Animal advocates around the world have called on aquariums and theme parks to stop exhibiting marine mammals—and this is the first step. Protected sea pools afford dolphins and orcas room to move around and some degree of autonomy and self-determination. They’re able to see, sense and communicate with their wild cousins and other ocean animals — and they finally get to feel the tides and waves and have the opportunity to engage in the kinds of behavior that they’ve long been denied.

SeaWorld is starting to see the writing on the wall. In May, the corporation announced that it would stop breeding future generations of orcas, who would have to spend their lives in cramped tanks. But kind people everywhere are calling on the corporation to release all its animals into coastal sanctuaries. As the public’s condemnation of captive marine mammal displays continues to grow, there’s little doubt that protected sea pens are the wave of the future.

Travel giant TripAdvisor recognized the trend towards compassionate tourism and stopped selling tickets to most excursions using animals for entertainment, including cruel “swim with dolphins” programs, elephant rides and tiger photo ops. Since many facilities dupe visitors into believing that they’re helping animals, many vacationers unwittingly support cruelty by patronizing them. But by informing travelers about the dark underside of these excursions and refusing to offer them, TripAdvisor’s new policy will have a very real impact on animal exploitation in tourist traps.

Nearly a half-dozen roadside zoos — where animals suffered in filthy, ramshackle cages — closed their doors in 2016. Families are turning their backs on exhibits in which bears are confined to concrete pits and tigers pace in fetid pens.

But progress for animals hasn’t been limited to the U.S. In Argentina, a judge found that Cecilia, a chimpanzee languishing in a Mendoza zoo, isn’t a “thing” but rather a sentient being who is “subject to nonhuman rights” — and ordered that she be sent to a sanctuary. Countries as disparate as Norway and Iran banned exotic-animal acts.

Argentina passed a ban on greyhound racing, sparing countless dogs a short, grim life in the “sport.” India’s Supreme Court upheld a ban on a cruel pastime called jallikattu—in which bullocks are raced and often struck with whips and nail-studded sticks to make them run faster. And the annual Toro de la Vega “festival” — in which a young bull is chased through the streets of Tordesillas, Spain, and stabbed with darts and spears — was banned.

While 2016 was a good year for animals, there’s always more to be done. We all have the power to spare animals pain and suffering in the year ahead—and beyond—simply by making kind choices about what we do for entertainment.

When three years feels like an eternity

By Delcianna Winders, Esq.

Feld Entertainment, the private company that owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, recently announced that it plans to phase out its use of elephants in performances by 2018. But why does this billion-dollar behemoth need three years to do what it should do immediately?

A company spokesperson acknowledged that the decision was reached because the public has made it clear that it no longer supports forcing elephants to perform. More and more people have come to learn that in circuses, baby elephants are taken from their mothers, beaten into submission with bullhooks and shackled for the rest of their lives. A bullhook is a heavy baton with a sharp metal tip and hook on the end used to keep captive elephants submissive and afraid. The company’s CEO, Kenneth Feld, admitted that the bullhook bans being passed or considered in cities throughout the country contributed to the decision.

So why force elephants to live in fear of being hit with these weapons and to spend days on end confined to fetid boxcars for another three years? If the company is serious and sincere about evolving, then it should make this change now.

Transported from venue to venue almost year-round, elephants used by circuses spend most of their lives shackled and confined. These animals, who are genetically designed to walk many miles every day, must eat, drink, sleep, defecate and urinate in a world measured in inches. This prolonged chaining is linked to deadly foot disorders, arthritis and “stereotypic” (neurotic) behavior, such as constant swaying.

At least 11 elephants with Ringling have tested positive for tuberculosis (TB)—and that’s no laughing matter. TB can be deadly and is highly transmissible from elephants to humans, even without direct contact.

According to Kenneth Vail, the Animal Welfare Act compliance officer for Feld Entertainment, TB is “probably going to be the downfall of Feld’s elephants.”

Many elephants did not live long enough to benefit from Ringling’s change of heart. It’s too late for an 8-month-old baby elephant named Riccardo, who was destroyed after he fractured his hind legs when he fell from a pedestal during a training session; 4-year-old Benjamin, who drowned while being pursued by a handler with a bullhook; and 3-year-old Kenny (Kenneth Feld’s namesake), who died shortly after he was forced to go on stage despite the fact that he was bleeding from his rectum and having difficulty standing.

While Ringling’s decision will provide some relief to elephants forced to perform, let’s not forget that at its Florida compound, elephants are shackled and handled with bullhooks, so a serene retirement does not await them. They are also used as breeding machines, even though captive elephants are dying at a faster rate than they are breeding. Ringling has failed to make any meaningful contribution to the protection of wild Asian elephant habitat and has been unabashedly uninterested in furthering conservation of wild elephant populations. When asked why it doesn’t redirect its efforts from captive breeding to wild habitat conservation, Ringling’s national media representative responded, “Habitat is another thing. We’re not a conservation organization.”

Instead of breeding more elephants who will spend their lives in chains and in forced breeding regimens, Feld Entertainment could transform its Florida facility into a genuine sanctuary—modeled after the successful examples of California’s PAWS and Tennessee’s The Elephant Sanctuary—where elephants could form social groups of their own choosing, swim in ponds and roam over large areas to forage and explore.

Feld Entertainment is on the cusp of a new business model. The company just needs to go further—and faster.

Delcianna Winders is deputy general counsel for the PETA Foundation. Please check our ICT circus FB page, run by Deb Young, on this website (click on text by baby elephant) for updates on elephants and other wild animals in traveling shows and roadside zoos. Thank you!

Roadside “zoos” and tourist traps that use animals – the pits!

By Jennifer O’Connor

If your family is planning a vacation in the waning weeks of summer, there is an easy way to save time and gas and avoid bringing home awful memories: Simply drive past decrepit roadside zoos and other cruel tourist traps that use animals. Vacationers with money to spend keep these archaic exhibits in business, and animals will continue to suffer and die as long as people heed the call of highway billboards and pull over.

I’ll never forget my own family’s summer trip through Tennessee. Growing restless in the back seat of the car, my sisters and I nagged our dad to stop and see the Three Bears Gift Shop in the Pigeon Forge tourist area. That stop became family lore about how our trip ended with three girls bawling their eyes out after seeing depressed, mouldy-looking bears in concrete pits being pelted with food. Decades later, Three Bears still exists, and another generation of bears is living in the same deprived conditions. Take my word for it: Don’t go.

Bears in the Cherokee area of North Carolina are in similarly abysmal conditions. Three roadside zoos—Cherokee Bear Zoo, Chief Saunooke Bear Park and Santa’s Land—display neurotic, hungry bears in desolate concrete pits or cramped cages in which they pace back and forth, walk in endless circles, cry, whimper and beg for tourists to toss them a morsel of food. Bears are intelligent, curious and energetic. They enjoy digging, constructing cozy nests, climbing and searching out berries and other treats. The bears in Cherokee’s zoos have nothing to do but walk a few steps or sleep on a concrete floor.

The otherwise glorious destination of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is marred by a place called T.I.G.E.R.S. This outfit rips baby animals away from their frantic mothers to be used as photo props. Do not be fooled by any claims of altruism—it’s all about the money. The operator of this roadside zoo also hauls animals around the country. Last year, an adult tiger escaped, and some years earlier, a lion mauled a model during a photo session.

If you’re thinking of heading to Six Flags in Vallejo, California, or Jackson, New Jersey, please cross these theme parks off your list. Elephants are forced to perform tricks and give rides to park visitors. Since 1995, eight elephants have died at the Six Flags Vallejo park, which still uses cruel bullhooks to “control” elephants. In one three-month period, 26 animals died at the New Jersey location.

Don’t let SeaWorld’s well-financed advertising department lull you into thinking that this is the right place for your family. Dolphins and orcas are confined to a life of swimming in endless circles in barren, concrete tanks. Nearly two dozen orcas have died in SeaWorld facilities in the last 25 years, but none died of old age. Dozens of bottlenose dolphins have also perished. If discount tickets are still enticing you, consider this: Do you want to take the chance that your child might experience the same horror as those who witnessed an orca batter a SeaWorld trainer to death last year?

When you hit the road this summer, please include compassion on your itinerary. Don’t pass a few hours at places where animals will continue to languish in misery long after you’re back home.

Jennifer O’Connor is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation.