The Ugly Truth Behind Show Animals: Animals in popular attractions are often abused by tourists and handlers

Morgan Mickavicz, Assist. Op Ed Editor

     A recent opinion article in the New York Times written by Vanessa Barbara outlined her experience in the Amazon and the endangerment to dolphins she witnessed there. Barbara witnesses individuals restraining and riding dolphins, harassing them and even lifting them out of the water so that people could get better pictures of them. She states that tour guides often encourage tourists to do this, probably because it attracts more people, since who does not want to have fun with dolphins?

     Well, people who know that this type of touching aggravates dolphins and puts them in danger. Humans do not have the right to go into the dolphins’ habitat and unrestrictedly play with them. Yes, the Amazon’s pink dolphins are really neat, but the tour guides are more concerned with making money than keeping the dolphins and tourists safe. Barbara states that, “there’s no federal legislation prohibiting feeding and touching the dolphins,” and that research has proved an increase in interactions with tourists has resulted in aggression being a more common trait in the dolphins.


     The concerns Barbara brings up in her article are not new. We have heard about many issues revolving around tourist attractions which endanger animals in their natural habitats. A publication by the INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA) investigates the impacts of tourism on ecosystems and animals. In their publication, they assert that research has,  “found physiological changes in animals subject to disturbance through tourism.”

     WGEA also explains that a large number of tourists and a lot of animal feeding done by them can cause stresses to animals and have health effects. When people go to a zoo or another animal tourist site, everyone wants to feed the giraffe a snack or let a cute sheep eat out of their hands, but at what cost to the animals?

     While poor countries experience a lot of indirect animal abuse and increased stress to animals due to lack of regulations for the ways tourists can interact with animals, many zoos, animal shows, and circuses have been under fire for mistreatment of animals for the sake of making money. Two of the most famous examples are SeaWorld and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth” circus. Earlier this year, National Geographic published an article stating that as of March 2017, the orca shows done at SeaWorld would stop in California due to the mistreatment of the whales. The containment of killer whales in tanks at SeaWorld was an unnatural and limiting habitat for the whales.

     Per protests and backlash from groups like People for the Ethical treatment of Animals (PETA), SeaWorld had not brought in whales from the wild in years, but were breeding the animals in their tanks. The only reason these whales had been kept in captivity was because people paid money to see the shows, especially the most famous whale, Shamu. However, in recent years, per National Geographic, numbers for the whale shows at SeaWorld have decreased. So, it is likely that what pushed SeaWorld to end their wrong shows and keeping of large wild animals in captivity was not the outrage from people and advocacy groups that they were harming animals, but that business has been sinking.

     For over 100 years, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s circus show, “The Greatest Show on Earth” has entertained families nationwide. The spotlight of their show became their elephants, whom performed dance routines that impressed crowds. However, PETA had been on their tails for years per their alleged animal abuse and mistreatment of the elephants. The PETA website claims that the elephants had been beaten by their trainers to perform the way they wanted them to do for the circus. Social media erupted with backlash for the show when these claims came out, so recently the show removed the elephants altogether. The “Greatest Show on Earth” closes this year and writes on their website, “after much evaluation and deliberation…. [the show] will hold its final performances of May of this year…ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw and even more dramatic drop.” Their statement seems like the company is angry with the fact that backlash forced them to remove their poor, mistreated elephants from the show than they are sorry about the mistreatment that led to their decline. The “Greatest Show on Earth” takes no responsibility for the harm they caused to innocent animals.

     This is an all too common problem. People around the world believe that animals can be abused, mistreated, and exploited for humans’ advantage to make quick money through tourism and attractions. But, it is so wrong. Animals do not have voices; so we need to speak up for them and push for legislation that protects them from humans. They own this earth as much as we do and they deserve respect, not to be used for monetary gain.

Morgan is a Secondary Education  and English major. She is she Vice President of College Republicans and Assistant Editor for The Voice.