Entertainment Animals

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Chapter 7
Entertainment Animals

Entertainment animals are those that perform or are displayed publicly to amuse people. These animals appear in circuses, carnivals, animal shows and exhibits, amusement and wildlife theme parks, aquariums, zoos, museums, fairs, and motion pictures and television programs. Although these venues are diverse, they all have one thing in common: They use animals for human purposes. Many of these purposes are purely recreational. Others combine recreation with educational goals, such as teaching the public about the conservation and preservation of endangered species. In either case, the animals are a source of income for their owners.

Entertainment animals include both wild and domesticated types. Wild exotic animals such as elephants, lions, and tigers are the most popular. They are objects of curiosity because people do not encounter them in their daily lives. The word exotic means "foreign" or "not native" but also suggests an air of mystery and danger that is alluring to people, who will often pay to see exotic animals living in cages. By contrast, domestic animals must do something to make money, because most people will not pay to see ordinary dogs and cats lying around. They might, however, pay to see them jump through fiery hoops or walk on their hind legs pushing baby carriages. They will pay even more to see wild animals do such things.

This unnatural basis of the exotic animal business is what makes it unacceptable to animal rights groups. They believe that wild animals should live in the wild, unaffected by human interference, and not be forced to do things that do not come naturally to them. Animal welfarists fear that exotic animals are not housed, trained, and cared for in a humane manner, particularly at circuses, carnivals, and roadside zoos and parks. The animals at these venues frequently are treated poorly, living in deplorable conditions without access to veterinary care. Performing animals must be trained to be entertainers, and many trainers use cruel and abusive methods.

Animal rights advocates feel that even nonperforming captive wild animals live unnatural existences. They are either removed from their natural habitats or born into captivity. Some people argue that this is beneficial to the animals and the perpetuation of their species. Animals in the wild face many dangers, including natural predators, starvation, hunters, and poachers. Their natural habitats in many parts of the world are shrinking as human development takes up more and more space.

Some exotic animals live longer in captivity than they would in the wild, and some species might die out completely if humans did not capture specimens of them to preserve. Large zoos often do this kind of work, and they may also take in exotic animals that have been surrendered by or rescued from smaller, less capable zoos and parks. However, even these large zoos are in the entertainment business, earning money by displaying captive animals to the public. Does the end justify the means? This is one of the fundamental questions in the debate over animals in entertainment.


The use of animals for entertainment dates back thousands of years. Even ancient civilizations were fascinated by exotic animals. Archaeological evidence shows that lions were kept in cages in Macedonia as far back as 2,000 BC. Egyptian, Chinese, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Roman rulers also collected wild animals, as did the Abbasid princes of Arabia. Ancient collections often included elephants, bears, giraffes, and big cats. Historians believe that wild animals were kept and shown off by rulers as a symbol of power and wealth.

Wild-animal performances were perfected in the traveling menageries, circuses, and sideshows of the 1800s. Most acts of the time focused on the ferocity of the animals and the bravery of the trainer. Lions were trained to roar and swat at the trainers, who fended them off with whips and chairs. These daring acts thrilled audiences, but the training methods used could be brutal. Trainers had to establish absolute dominance over their animals to prevent them from actually attacking. Animals were usually beaten, starved, and sometimes even had their teeth pulled to render them less dangerous.

In the nineteenth century horses, dogs, and other domesticated animals performed in variety shows throughout Europe and the United States. Near the end of the century, animal acts were incorporated into a new form of American entertainment: vaudeville. Vaudeville shows consisted of short theatrical acts performed on stage. They usually included jugglers, singers, dancers, magicians, comedians, and performing animals. Vaudeville remained popular until about 1920, when it was overshadowed by radio and motion pictures. These new entertainment media also featured animal acts.

The movie and television industry became major media outlets for animal entertainment during the latter part of the twentieth century. Circuses and other traditional shows featuring live wild animal acts faded in popularity as they competed with new venues, such as theme parks and aquariums with exotic animals. In 1964 the first Sea World marine park opened in San Diego, California. The San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park was established in 1969. Busch Gardens of Florida began in the late 1950s as a beer-tasting factory open to the public. Over the following two decades the company added elaborate bird and animal acts and amusement park rides to create a theme park. During the late 1990s Sea World and Walt Disney World both added massive animal theme parks to their existing attractions.

Exotic animal acts evolved during the twentieth century. These shows are often marketed as a chance for people to get closer to nature and to help protect endangered species. Tourists pay to swim with captive dolphins at beach resorts. Sea World in Orlando, Florida, advertises "amazing animal encounters" for its guests with orcas, dolphins, sea lions, and stingrays.


Performing animals in the United States had little legal protection until 1970, when the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was amended to include animals exhibited to the public. Regulation and enforcement of the act is handled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Animal exhibitors that show animals for compensation and either obtain or dispose of animals in commercial transactions must be licensed. Exhibitors that do not receive compensation and do not buy, sell, or transport animals only need to register.

Licensing is required for:

  • Zoos (except those operated by the federal government)
  • Exhibits, shows, and acts that feature captive marine mammals (dolphins, porpoises, whales, polar bears, sea otters, seals, walruses, and other mammals with fins or flippers)
  • Tourist attractions exhibiting animals, such as roadside zoos
  • Carnivals and circuses
  • Promotional exhibits in which regulated animals are used to promote or advertise goods and services
  • Owners who exhibit animals doing tricks or otherwise performing for a live audience or on tape

Exemptions from the license requirement are granted for pet and horse shows, rodeos, hunting events, exhibits of farm animals at agricultural events, private collectors who do not publicly show or sell animals, enterprises that keep animals in a wild state (such as game and hunting preserves), and exhibits that feature animals not covered by the AWAmainly birds, reptiles, and fish.

Under the AWA licensed exhibitors must provide "adequate care and treatment in the areas of housing, handling, transportation, sanitation, nutrition, water, general husbandry, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather and temperatures." The exhibitors are required to keep records detailing the veterinary care that the animals receive. As shown in Table 7.1, there were 2,647 licensed exhibitors and seventeen registered exhibitors operating in 2006. California has the most licensed animal acts (255), followed by Florida (251), Texas (240), Illinois (131), and Pennsylvania (124).

Regulations are also designed to ensure public safety. Dangerous animals can be publicly exhibited only under the direct control of an experienced trainer. There are time limits for exhibits, and the animals have to be fed and watered and handled in a humane manner that prevents unnecessary stress or discomfort. Physical abuse and withholding food are not permissible training methods. Traveling exhibits have to submit their performance schedules to APHIS before each tour. Exhibitors that violate standards are subject to warnings and civil actions such as license suspensions or fines.

Criticisms of the AWA and APHIS

The AWA regulations are criticized by animal welfarists as being minimal standards that provide little protection and are poorly enforced. Penalties for violating the AWA are civil, not criminal. The USDA reports that it conducted 3,577 inspections of animal exhibits in 2004. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.)

Number of USDA-licensed and registered animal exhibits, by state, September 2006
StateLicensed exhibitsRegistered exhibits
NumberPercentage of totalNumberPercentage of total
Source: Adapted from "Exhibitors," in Facility Lists: Exhibitors, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, September 7, 2006, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ac/publications/reports/C_cert_holders.txt (accessed December 15, 2006) and "Registered Exhibitors," in Facility Lists: Registered Exhibitors, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, September 7, 2006, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ac/publications/reports/E_cert_holders.txt (accessed December 15, 2006)
District of Columbia00%00%
North Carolina742.8%00%
North Dakota140.5%00%
New Hampshire160.6%00%
New Jersey451.7%00%
New Mexico151%00%
New York1214.6%00%
Puerto Rico40.2%00%
Rhode Island50.2%00%
South Carolina501.9%00%
South Dakota190.7%00%
West Virginia100.4%00%

Entertainment animals are often protected by state and local anticruelty laws, but the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) claims that some states exempt USDA-licensed animal acts (particularly circuses) from meeting anticruelty standards. Animal rights groups also say that the USDA refuses to allow its inspectors to testify in criminal cruelty cases. Some local governments forbid or tightly regulate animal acts.

The HSUS advocates one of two legislative approaches at the local level:

  • A ban on any mental and physical harassment of wild animals for the purpose of entertainment and a ban on their use in unnatural behaviors (such as jumping through hoops, wrestling with people, and so on)
  • A ban on the use of all wild animals for entertainment unless regulations are in place to ensure their safety and that of the public


Circuses have used performing animals, mostly horses, elephants, lions, tigers, bears, and monkeys, for centuries. Animal rights and welfare groups are critical of circuses that feature animals. They say that the animals are treated poorly and spend long hours in small cages or chained to the ground. The HSUS (2007, http://www.hsus.org/wildlife/issues_facing_wildlife/circuses/circus_myths. html) makes the following claims against circuses:

  • Many circus animals are not owned by the circuses but are leased from exotic animal dealers under seasonal contracts.
  • Circuses do not provide proper veterinary care for the animals they own or lease.
  • Circus animals spend too much time in transport in trucks and railcars that are not air conditioned or heated.
  • Traveling circus animals are often deprived of food and water for long periods.
  • Circus training methods include beatings and food deprivation.

Major animal welfare and rights groups, such as the HSUS and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), advocate animal-free circuses. PETA's anticircus Web site (2006, http://www.circuses.com/attacksele03.asp) lists hundreds of captive animal attacks it says have occurred since 1990. PETA claims that these rampages result from the animals' rebelling against years of abuse and deprivation. The HSUS also maintains a list of animal incidents (escapes, attacks, and alleged abuse cases) associated with circuses and other animal entertainment acts. Table 7.2 lists those that occurred since 2000. The most widely publicized was the 2003 attack of Las Vegas showman Roy Horn of the Siegfried and Roy act. Horn was critically injured after being attacked in the neck by one of the show's tigers during a live performance.

Humane Society accounts of violent events involving circus animals, 200004
DateLocationEntertainment venueIncident
Source: Adapted from text in Circus Incidents: Attacks, Abuse, and Property Damage, Humane Society of the United States, June 2004, http://www.hsus.org/web-files/PDF/2004_HSUS_Circus_Incidents.pdf (accessed January 3, 2007)
5/31/2004San FranciscoSix Flags Marine WorldElephant trainer gored, in critical condition
3/8/2004IllinoisHawthorn CorporationElephant owners found in violation of Animal Welfare Act (AWA)
12/22/2003United KingdomBobby Roberts CircusElephant escapes ring and roams residential area before being recaptured
12/2/2003MoscowChildren's theater groupBear kills trainer during feeding
11/27/2003EcuadorCircusPolice shoot and kill two escaped lions that attacked a child
11/23/2003IllinoisPerforming animal firmUnited States Department of Agriculture (USDA) confiscates an elephant with a serious illness
10/3/2003Las VegasSiegfried & Roy casino actTiger mauls performer, in critical condition
6/9/2003Brownsville, TXTraveling circusTwo zebras escape and roam highway. Zebras and bystander injured.
5/5/2003Orlando, FLGatorlandHandler attacked by alligator, receives lacerations to face
4/29/2003Columbus, OHRingling Bros & Barnum Bailey CircusHandler bitten by alligator on hand
4/25/2003RussiaCircusAnimal trainer killed by lions
Spring 2003RussiaCircus12-year-old girl killed by runaway circus lion
4/21/2003SpainInternational CircusTiger bites arm off man who reaches into cage
4/7/2003IndonesiaCircusElephant kills trainer
3/21/2003Lincoln, NEShriners CircusPony escapes and runs down street before being recaptured
2/3/2003Jacksonville, FLUniversoul CircusTiger escapes cage and roams before being recaptured
8/22/2002VirginiaSterling and Reid CircusAnimal handlers arrested for animal cruelty
8/10/2002Rhinebeck, NYCarson and Barnes CircusTruck carrying elephants overturns on highway
July 2002CanadaShriners CircusThree elephants deported from Canada for possibly carrying tuberculosis
8/10/2001AustraliaLennon's CircusLion tamer attacked by 3 lions, receives severe lacerations
5/23/2001MexicoHermanos Rodriguez Ayala CircusTwo lions escaped and roamed around town before being recaptured
8/17/2001SpainCircusThree lions and one tiger escape and kill several circus animals
3/25/2001Chicago, ILShrine CircusOnlooker files complaint about elephant being beaten with hook
3/25/2001Allentown, PARoyal Palace Circus of SarasotaSnake charmer bitten in abdomen by cobra
3/21/2001MoscowDurov's Little CornerTrainer crushed to death in elephant's pen
12/29/2000GermanyCircusTiger escapes cage and roams onto nearby road causing 12 mile traffic jam
12/15/2000IndiaCircusPerformer mauled to death by three tigers during performance
11/4/2000GermanyCircusLiger (mix of tiger and lion) critically wounds 5-year-old girl
8/4/2000BrazilCircusSix lions escape from cage and roam town before being killed by police
4/24/2000ThailandSuan Nongnuch Animal ParkElephant kills woman and seriously injures 2 other spectators
4/20/2000Yucca Valley, CACulpepper and Merriweather CircusElephant and three horses escape. Elephant injures person.
4/3/2000BrazilCircusFive lions kill and eat six-year-old boy. Lions had not been fed for 5 days.
4/2/2000Baton Rouge, LASterling and Reid CircusBear falls out of truck on highway
3/7/2000PolandCircusThree tigers escape and roam town. Police kill 1 tiger and 1 bystander.
2/4/2000Tampa, FLRamos FamilyElephant who had killed trainer found dead
2/3/2000Deland, FLClyde Beatty-Cole BrosUSDA inspector finds many scars and health problems on two elephants
1/23/2000Tampa, FLRamos FamilyElephant tramples keeper to death
1/8/2000IndiaElephant paradeOne man killed and several spectators injured by elephant stampede


Elephants are particularly difficult to keep in confinement because of their immense size. Welfarists claim that many circus elephants are mistreated, malnourished, and sick with tuberculosis. A common tool for training elephants is called an ankus or bullhook, a long rod with a sharp hook on the end. Critics charge that elephant trainers beat the animals with the rod and poke the hook into tender areas of the elephant's hide behind its ears.

PETA (February 2005, http://www.circuses.com/savelota.asp) describes the life of a circus elephant named Lota. She lived at the Milwaukee Zoo from 1954 until 1990, when she was acquired by the Hawthorn Corporation, a company that trains exotic animals and leases them to circuses. PETA claims that Hawthorn handlers beat Lota and that she suffered from malnutrition and tuberculosis. The company has been criticized by animal welfare groups for years for its problems.

The HSUS reports in "USDA Seizes the Moment, Orders Hawthorn to Give Up 16 Elephants" (March 25, 2004, http://www.hsus.org/wildlife/wildlife_news/) that in April 2003 the Hawthorn Corporation was charged by the USDA for violations of the AWA. Later that year the USDA confiscated a fifty-eight-year-old elephant named Delhi from the company and sent it to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. In March 2004 Hawthorn owner John Cuneo admitted to committing at least nineteen violations of the AWA and agreed to relinquish ownership of all sixteen of his elephants by August 2004 to settle the USDA lawsuit. He was assessed a $200,000 civil penalty. In July 2004 Cuneo filed court motions seeking to vacate the consent order against him. A long series of legal maneuvers began that extended well beyond the original August 2004 deadline for relinquishing the elephants.

In Hawthorn Elephant Update (February 14, 2006, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ac/stakeholder/stakeholder4.pdf), APHIS notes that two of the elephants (Tess and Sue) subsequently died in Hawthorn facilities. In late 2004 two more elephants (Lota and Misty) went to live at the Elephant Sanctuary. Lota died there in February 2005 after a long battle with tuberculosis. Two other elephants were placed with other facilities approved by the USDA. In January 2006 eight more Hawthorn elephants were sent to the Elephant Sanctuary. And, more than a year later, Jeff Long reports in "Owner Finds Home for Last 2 Elephants" (Chicago Tribune, February 27, 2007) that Pat Derby, co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), agreed to admit the remaining two Hawthorn elephants (Nicholas and Gypsy) to PAWS's San Andreas sanctuary in California.

In 2002 the animal rights group In Defense of Animals (IDA) sponsored speaking engagements around the country for a former circus animal trainer, who described beatings administered to elephants with bullhooks. He claimed that brutal training methods are routinely used at the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus and Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The IDA also obtained video footage of what it says are abusive training methods being practiced on circus animals.

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus defends its elephant training and breeding programs. The circus, which is owned by Feld Entertainment, operates an animal retirement facility and the Center of Elephant Conservation (CEC) in Florida. The CEC was founded in 1995 to conserve, study, and breed Asian elephants. According to company officials (2006, http://www.ringling.com/cec/), the CEC is a five-million-dollar, two hundred-acre facility dedicated to preserving the species, of which only thirty-five thousand are left in the wild. The CEC is not open to the public but admits researchers, conservationists, and academicians by arrangement. Feld Entertainment (2006, http://www.ringling.com/cec/apr2005birth.aspx) boasts that the CEC is "home to the world's largest and most genetically diverse Asian elephant population in the Western hemisphere." According to the CEC, its latest calf, Irvin, was born in June 2005.

Animal rights groups contend that breeding elephants to work in the circus is not really conservation. They believe that wild animals should live undisturbed in their natural environments and that resources should be focused on protecting and expanding natural habitats. They do not generally advocate the use of captivity as a conservation tool.


Animals have been performing in movies and television shows ever since those media were invented. (See Figure 7.1.) Rin Tin Tin was a famous war dog that starred in silent movies during the 1920s. The story of another dog, Lassie, appeared in book form in 1940, in a movie in 1943, and on television in 1954. The original television show ran for seventeen years. Another dog gained fame in the title role of the move Benji in 1974. Popular animal movies of the 1980s included White Fang and Turner and Hooch.

The orca Keiko became famous because of the 1993 movie Free Willy. In the movie Keiko portrayed a whale liberated from captivity with the help of a boy. JoBeth McDaniel, in "Won't Somebody Please Save This Whale?" (Life, November 1993), described the irony of the poor conditions in which Keiko lived in a Mexican amusement park. In response, the Free Willy Foundation raised millions of dollars to have Keiko moved in 1996 to an aquarium in Oregon. (See Figure 7.2.) There he gained weight and recuperated from various health ailments. In 1998 Keiko was flown to Iceland to live in a bay pen in his native waters. His handlers tried to teach Keiko skills he would need in the wild, such as catching live fish on his own. In 2002 Keiko was released. But he did not join an ocean pod of whales as was hoped. Instead, he took refuge in a calm bay in Norway and remained semidependent on humans for food until his death in 2003 from pneumonia.

During the 1990s animal stories in the media became so popular that an entire cable television network was devoted to them. Animal Planet was launched in 1996 as a project of Discovery Communications. It broadcasts such popular shows as Animal Cops, Animal Precinct, The Crocodile Hunter, The Jeff Corwin Experience, The Planet's Funniest Animals, and Wild Rescues.

Animal Precinct is a reality show that goes on patrol with New York City's Humane Law Enforcement (HLE) agents. These agents are empowered to respond to cruelty complaints, perform investigations, and arrest people for crimes against animals. They were granted this power in 1866 when the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals established its original charter with the state of New York. Animal Cops is a similar series based on the work of the Detroit-based Michigan Humane Society. Due to the popularity of such shows, additional programs were created in Houston, Miami, and San Francisco. Since their inception, these shows have gained an enormous fan base, and the agents and officers featured have earned celebrity status because of their work.

American Humane Association Monitors Animal Welfare

During the filming of the 1939 movie Jesse James, a horse was killed when it was forced to jump off a cliff for a scene. Public complaints led to the formation of the film-monitoring unit of the American Humane Association (AHA). The AHA opened an office in Los Angeles in 1940.

In 1980 the AHA was awarded a contract with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) to monitor the safety and welfare of animals appearing in movies and television shows featuring SAG performers filmed in the United States. The Producer-Screen Actors Guild Codified Basic Agreement of 1998 includes a provision that producers must notify the AHA before using animals on a set and provide AHA representatives with access to the set while animals are being filmed. This applies to movies, television shows, commercials, and music videos that include SAG performers.

The AHA reviews scripts and works with animal trainers and production staff to ensure that animals are not harmed during filming. The AHA monitors hundreds of productions each year in the United States. The AHA's contractual authority does not extend beyond the United States. However, producers sometimes invite the AHA to oversee animal filming at foreign locations. The AHA has no oversight authority on non-SAG productions, such as reality shows and documentaries. The AHA has publicly criticized the television shows Survivor and Fear Factor for incidents in which animals were killed or injured by the shows' contestants.

The AHA guidelines are laid out in the document American Humane Association Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media (October 2005, http://www.americanhumane.org/site/DocServer/LA_Guidelines_Web2.pdf?docID=1821). The guidelines cover what filmmakers and crew should do before and during production to ensure animal safety. The AHA rates movies based on their adherence to these guidelines. Ratings for nearly two thousand movies are provided on the AHA Web site (2007, http://www.ahafilm.info/movies/movieratings.phtml).

The AHA Web site also describes in detail how particular animal scenes were filmed in dozens of movies. Usage of deceptive camera angles, body doubles, fake blood, computer graphics, and other tricks is described.

Ralph Frammolino and James Bates, in "Questions Raised about Group That Watches Out for Animals in Movies" (Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2001), are critical of the AHA's role in overseeing animal filming. They claim that the AHA provides too little oversight and is reluctant to criticize the major movie studios, which fund its work. The AHA's budget comes from a fund that is overseen by producers and the SAG.


The word zoo is short for "zoological garden." The term, taken from the Greek word zoion, meaning "animal," first came into English usage in the mid-1800s. The London Zoological Society established a garden around 1828 to display its collection of wild animals. At first the garden was private, accessible only to members who paid a subscription fee. The society wanted to distinguish itself from the common animal exhibits of the time, but the need for funds drove the society to open the garden to the public in 1846. The new zoo was hugely popular, receiving more than one hundred thousand visitors during its first year. The royal menagerie at the Tower of London was closed around this time and its animals were presented to the zoo.

In 1874 the first American zoo opened to the public in Philadelphia. It featured animals from around the world, as well as elaborate gardens, architecture, and art. Early zoos kept wild animals in cages, but during the mid-1800s the German exhibitor Carl Hagenbeck Jr. advocated the use of natural settings for zoo animals. In 1907 he opened a zoo in which the animals were exhibited on artificial islands that resembled their natural habitats. He felt that this approach was better for both the animals and the spectators. Even though few other zoo-keepers adopted his ideas at the time, they were one of the hallmarks of a top zoo by the end of the twentieth century.

Accredited Zoos

In 1924 the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums was founded. Today it is called the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). It is a nonprofit organization that works to advance conservation, education, science, and recreation at zoos and aquariums. According to its Web site (2007, http://www.aza.org/AboutAZA/), the AZA is "dedicated to the advancement of accredited zoos and aquariums in the areas of animal care, wildlife conservation, education and science." Zoos and aquariums that meet AZA's professional standards can be accredited by the organization. In 2007 there were more than two hundred AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, located mostly in North America, housing more than seven hundred thousand animals.

In "The Collective Impact of AZA-Accredited Zoos and Aquariums" (August 2006, http://www.aza.org/AboutAZA/Documents/CollImpact.pdf), the AZA notes that accredited zoos and aquariums provide the following services yearly:

  • Receive 143 million visitors (more than attend major league football, basketball, and baseball games combined)
  • Receive over $100 million in financial support and millions of volunteer work hours from patrons
  • Dedicate $83 million to educational programs
  • Educate more than forty-five million people each year
  • Participate in more than seventeen hundred conservation projects all over the world
  • Employ over thirty-three thousand workers

The AZA also works to ensure the long-term breeding and conservation of a variety of species. As of 2006, 149 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates were protected under its Species Survival Plan.

The zoos accredited by the AZA in the United States are generally well respected by the public and even by many animal welfarists. For example, the HSUS acknowledges that large zoos educate the public about wildlife and help conserve, preserve, and restore endangered species. However, this does not spare accredited zoos from some criticisms.

In "Cruel and Usual" (U.S. News and World Report, August 5, 2002), Michael Satchell examines the animal disposal practices of some major U.S. zoos. Satchell tracked down a dozen primates, birds, and other exotic animals that had left the prestigious Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York, for a menagerie in Texas. He found the animals living in filthy cages alongside an interstate highway amid trash and weeds. The menagerie had gone out of business.

Anne Baker, the executive director of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, which is accredited by the AZA, said she had relied on references and information supplied by the Texas facility to make her decision. Satchell, however, points out that if the director had checked with the USDA she would have found that unfavorable inspection reports had been issued for the menagerie.

The AZA's code of ethics requires accredited institutions to acquire animals from and dispose of animals to other AZA institutions or to non-AZA members with "the expertise, records management capabilities, financial stability, and facilities required to properly care for and maintain the animals" (2007, http://www.aza.org/AboutAZA/ADPolicy/). Satchell claims that this procedure is often violated by AZA zoos that "loan" or "donate" unwanted animals to unaccredited roadside zoos and animal parks. These facilities are frequently substandard and provide poor care. Satchell quotes an HSUS spokesperson as saying that the practice is "the dirty little secret" of the respectable zoos.

Satchell bases his accusations on a review of database records from the International Species Information System, which is used by major zoos to track animal transfers, and from interviews with government, zoo, and animal rights personnel. Satchell concludes that large zoos in New York, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Georgia, Colorado, Arizona, Alabama, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., have transferred unwanted animals to substandard facilities and to dealers with alleged links to the exotic animal trade.

Unaccredited Zoos

According to the AZA (2007, http://www.aza.org/Accreditation/AccreditationIntro/), it accredits only 10% of U.S. zoos. As such, there are thousands of unaccredited small "roadside zoos," petting zoos, animal parks, and similar exhibits that display animals to the public. The HSUS says that these small zoos often barely meet minimal federal standards for animal care. Most of these facilities include exotic animals, such as lions and tigers. Many are run by entrepreneurs with little experience in the proper care of exotic animals and with limited financial resources. Some call themselves animal preserves and achieve tax-exempt status so that they can solicit donations for their "conservation" work.

All licensed animal exhibits are subject to USDA inspection, but animal welfare groups claim that poorly run facilities often receive bad inspection reports for years and are still not closed down. A case in point is the Gentry Wild Wilderness Safari in Gentry, Arkansas. Robin Mero describes in "Wilmoth Settles" (Morning News, June 28, 2002) the park's questionable past.

According to Mero, the owner of the two-hundred-acre drive-through park was ticketed and fined numerous times for animal violations since 1988. In 1995 he paid an $8,000 civil penalty in an out-of-court settlement as a result of charges based on violations from 1992 to 1994. USDA inspections conducted in 19992000 resulted in a host of new charges that the facility violated AWA requirements for proper veterinary care, recordkeeping, housekeeping, and housing of its animals. This resulted in a $10,000 civil penalty that was also settled out of court. Half of the penalty is a fine. The other half must be spent upgrading the facility and training employees. According to Tracy M. Neal Park, in "Owners Deny Negligence in Chimp Incident" (Benton County Daily Record, February 23, 2005), the park was sued by a worker who claimed that two of her fingers were bitten off by a chimpanzee in the park in October 2004.

In "USDA Files Complaint against Zoo" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 2, 2005), Brad Urban reports on alleged problems at the Wesa-A-Geh-Ya Zoo in Warren County, Missouri. The zoo houses many wild animals, including big cats, wolves, and a bear. According to Urban, the USDA alleges that the park has committed "numerous violations" of the AWA, including "repeated instances" in which the facility failed to meet minimum standards of veterinary care. The violations were noted during eleven inspections that occurred between July 2001 and October 2003. Most of the violations involved housing and veterinary care for the zoo's lions and tigers.

Another roadside zoo in legal trouble was located in Colton, California. Tiger Rescue was a nonprofit sanctuary for big cats maintained on property near the residence of its owners, John Weinhart and Marla Smith. In "Neglecting over 90 Tigers, 58 Cubs Found Stuffed into Freezer" (April 22, 2003, http://www.pet-abuse.com/cases/1275/), the HSUS reports that in 2003 authorities found the corpses of more than ninety tigers (fifty-eight of which were tiger cubs) when they raided the property. In 2005 Weinhart was found guilty of fifty-six felony counts that included animal cruelty and child endangerment (Weinhart's child lived at the residence). Smith, the other owner, pleaded guilty in return for a shortened sentence.


Animal theme parks are large tourist attractions that combine elements of zoos (or aquariums) and amusement parks to entertain the public. According to the National Amusement Park Historical Association, theme parks have their origins in the "pleasure gardens" of medieval Europe. These gardens featured live entertainment, games, and other forms of recreation. Although their popularity faded in Europe, pleasure gardens evolved into amusement parks in the United States and were widely popular by the end of the 1800s.

The first oceanarium (a large saltwater aquarium) in the United States is thought to be Marine Studios of Florida. Later named Marineland, the oceanarium opened in June 1938 and received twenty thousand visitors its first day. Its popularity led to the opening of a similar facility, Marineland of the Pacific, in southern California in 1954. These oceanariums were more like amusement parks than traditional educational aquariums. They relied on performing dolphins, pilot whales, seals, and sea lions to entertain crowds.

In 1963 came the release of the popular movie Flipper, about a dolphin who befriends a young boy. It became a hit television show a year later. (See Figure 7.1.) Public demand for performing dolphins and other sea creatures skyrocketed. In 1964 George Millay developed a marine life park called Sea World in San Diego, California, and in 1965 Sea World acquired Shamu, a female orca captured from the wild.

Shamu was one of many orcas captured during the early 1960s for use in the entertainment industry. According to Frontline in A Whale of a Business (November 1997, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/whales/), the first captive orca had been collected for Marineland of the Pacific in 1961. The animal lived for only one day. She repeatedly smashed herself against the walls of her tank until she died. Frontline lists 133 known orcas captured between 1961 and 1997, along with their life spans in captivity. Many lived only for a few months, whereas the average life span for an orca in the wild is thirty to fifty years. Frontline estimates that 102 of the 133 captive orcas have died.

The original Shamu survived for six years. In the intervening years Sea World has continued to acquire orcas and call at least one of them by the stage name Shamu for performance purposes. Eventually, the company trademarked the name.

During the 1970s and 1980s Sea World marine parks opened in Ohio, Florida, and Texas. In 1989 they were purchased by Anheuser-Busch, which already operated Busch Gardens, a popular park in Florida featuring bird acts, animal shows, and amusement park rides. In 2000 the company opened another theme park, also in Florida, named Discovery Cove, where visitors can experience wildlife up close and swim with dolphins and stingrays. The stingers are cut off of the stingrays to make them harmless to people. An aviary includes hundreds of exotic birds that people can hand feed. According to company officials (December 8, 2006, http://www.orlandowelcomecenter.com/discovery-cove-environment.htm), the Sea World marine parks, Busch Gardens, and Discovery Cove are home to more than sixty thousand animals. The officials note that "these animals serve as ambassadors for their species by helping to entertain, educate and inspire millions of people."

Many animal welfare and rights groups are critical of the Anheuser-Busch theme parks and Disney's Animal Kingdom, an attraction opened at Walt Disney World in Florida in 1998. PETA (2006, http://www.helpinganimals.com/travel_feat_deadlydest.asp) refers to these parks as "deadly destinations" and notes that hundreds of animals have died at these facilities because of improper care. PETA argues that living conditions are not healthy for the animals in captivity and disputes claims by the owner companies of animal parks that they further conservation efforts. The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida states in "Disney's Animal Kingdom" (August 16, 2006, http://animalrightsflorida.org/Disney.html) that "Disney bulldozed tens of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat in the central Florida flatlands, killing native gopher tortoises and other animals" to build its Animal Kingdom, a park for imported wild animals.

The HSUS focuses its efforts on eliminating dolphin petting pools at animal theme parks. These are areas of shallow water around which visitors can gather and touch and feed dolphins. In the report Biting the Hand That Feeds: The Case against Dolphin Petting Pools (Spring 2003, http://www.hsus.org/marine_mammals/what_are_the_issues/marine_mammals_in_captivity/), the HSUS notes that animal theme parks are increasingly offering such opportunities for the public to experience physical contact with wild animals and marine life via feeding, petting, and swimming programs. The HSUS provides a number of arguments against holding cetaceans (dolphins, whales, porpoises, and so on) in captivity to entertain humans and particularly against using them in petting pools. HSUS field investigations conducted between 1996 and 2003 reveal that visitors to petting pools are not properly supervised by theme park staff and expose themselves and the animals to various health and safety hazards. The HSUS also notes that many of the dolphins in petting pools appear obese and show signs of injury from aggressive competition over food. Allowing the public to feed captive dolphins also sets a dangerous precedent, the HSUS believes, given that the government actively discourages people from feeding wild dolphins under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Finally, the HSUS disputes the claim by the theme park industry that petting pools are educational, noting that "hand-feeding dead fish to obese dolphins in a cramped, overcrowded and featureless tank of chemically treated water provides visitors with scant insight into normal dolphin behavior in the natural environment."