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Our Entertainment



By Nir Shalev





Rodeos the Brutal Reality


Racing — the Horror Behind the Glamour



Animal Protection

Captive Companions




From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted
that it no longer holds anything anymore.
To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand
bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride
which circles down to the tiniest hub
is like a dance of energy around a point
in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise
without a sound . . . then an image enters,
slips though the tightened silence of the shoulders,
reaches the heart, and dies.

Panther, Rainer Maria Rilke


Compared with the food, clothing, and vivisection industries, a relatively small number of animals are abused for entertainment purposes. Yet millions of animals worldwide still suffer, and often die, for the sake of our pleasure. Some of these animals, such as the bulls that are forced to die in the Spanish corrida, undergo obvious torture. But even "innocent" ventures like zoos are often heavily involved in animal exploitation and abuse.


Animal use by the entertainment industry can be categorized under different criteria. Some sectors use primarily or solely wildlife. This is the case with zoos, many circuses, and dolphinaria. Others — like bullfights, horse races, and rodeos — exploit only domesticated animals. Different types of animal use can be grouped according to their nature or professed aim. For example, zoos and aquariums claim to have educational value, whereas animal abuse at rodeos and bullfights is done primarily for "fun."


Apart from obvious abuse, such as whipping wildlife at circuses and physically harming animals in races and rodeos, there are other, less conspicuous, types of welfare problems in the entertainment industry. Husbandry requirements of wildlife can rarely, if ever, be met by most entertainment ventures. Circuses, for example, travel on a daily basis, and can never give their animals appropriate housing conditions. But even in modern zoos, predators and other animals who roam long distances in nature are confined to small spaces. Furthermore, many zoos still rely heavily on supply from the wild, and thus contribute to the depletion of wild populations. While zoo officials argue that watching wildlife has an important educational aspect, children who watch animals behind bars or in cages, or confined to the relatively small spaces provided in so-called "safari parks," can learn little, if anything, about the natural behavior and ecology of the species in nature. At best, they watch an artificially induced behavior that can only give a faint idea about the species' abilities in the wild.





In Israel, a ruling by the Supreme Court largely eliminated abuse of wildlife in shows and circuses. In 1997, the Court banned human-crocodile fights in the recreational resort of Hamat Gader (See The Animal Protection Law). In their interpretation of the Animal Welfare Law of 1994, the Judges said that a human activity that harms animals should be considered an abuse, unless such an activity serves a good "social value." In the case of shows like the human-crocodile fights, the Court found no socially redeeming value, and ruled that the fights constituted an abuse under the Law.


While the Supreme Court ruling addressed specifically only the human-crocodile fights, its verdict had much wider implications. Israeli authorities were quick to grasp the underlying message of the Court, and soon other types of wildlife shows were banned. In 2000, the Nature and Parks Authority, Israel's CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) authority, decided to ban the use of wildlife in circuses throughout Israel. Since then, Israel has not allowed wildlife circuses (which appear freely even in countries with a long history of animal welfare, like the UK) from entering or appearing in Israel.


Yet animals continue to suffer in the Israeli entertainment industry, despite the Supreme Court's verdict. Thousands of wild animals are kept in Israeli zoos and pinot hai (little zoo-like facilities in kibbutzim and small municipalities). Husbandry conditions in the latter are often particularly deficient, and wildlife kept there commonly shows stereotypic behavior (unnatural repetitive behavior) and other signs of stress.


Several cases of trade in wild-caught animals were revealed in recent years. For example, the Monkey Park in Ben-Shemen imported wild-caught squirrel monkeys from South America. This facility had a close relationship with the BFC monkey breeding farm (see Our Complicity: Israel's Importing, Breeding, and Exporting of Primates). Despite the fact that the Park was involved in trade in wild-caught monkeys, the Nature and Parks Authority officially endorsed part of it as a "sanctuary" for primates.


Animals still suffer in shows as well. While circuses that appear in Israel cannot feature wildlife, they can still use domesticated animals, provided the Controller of Animal Welfare at the Veterinary Services grants them permission to do this. In 2003, the Europa Circus came to Israel and was licensed by the Controller to feature cat, dog, and horse shows. It was only after the Circus started to appear that the Controller learned, from complaints by animal rights activists, that the shows included cats jumping through a burning hoop. Even after banning this specific act, audience members reported that the Circus still featured this cat act. In addition, the Veterinary Services allowed the Circus to house animals in conditions that fell short of its own guidelines. On the other hand, some individual cities in Israel have banned circuses that use any animals.


In addition, rodeos and horse races are becoming increasingly popular in Israel, and the government is even considering legalizing betting on horse racing.


  For an excellent history of animals in entertainment from ancient Rome through the twentieth century, see The Rose-Tinted Menagerie.