Countless animals are used for human entertainment in Canada, including animals in zoos, aquariums, circuses, and rodeo events. Tragically, wild animals have complex biological needs that go unmet when they are forced into captivity. Likewise, animals used in circuses, rodeo events and other spectacles are coerced into performing through fear, pain, and deprivation.
Animals kept in zoos are forced to endure unsuitable conditions that harm their physical and psychological wellbeing. Whether they are wild animals stolen away from their natural habitat, or born into cages from captive breeding, zoos deprive animals of everything that makes life worth living.
Zoos deny animals the basic, fundamental right to make choices about their lives. They have no ability to decide what they will eat, where they will sleep, or who their mates will be. Animals who fear humans have little ability to escape from the watchful eyes of visitors and zookeepers; they are constantly on display, which is incredibly stressful for many species.
Zoos confine animals in spaces that are a fraction of the size of their natural territories. Animals who would travel vast distances in the wild in search of food, exercise, and social opportunities are forced to pace back and forth in tiny enclosures. Inherent space limits mean zoos can never provide animals with an environment that even remotely resembles the forests, fields, and jungles that are their natural homes. During Canada’s harsh winters, animals adapted for warmer temperatures are forced to remain indoors for much of the cold season or else endure frigid temperatures.
Lack of space can have disastrous health consequences. For example, wild elephants roam dozens of kilometers every day to forage, bathe, and play. Lucy, an elephant kept at the Edmonton Zoo, has developed painful foot problems that are common among captive elephants prevented from walking vast distances.
In the wild, many animals live in large herds or social groups; others may be solitary or mated for life. In zoos, animals are forced into unnatural and inappropriate social groupings. For example, wild elephants live in large, complex, matriarchial herds, yet zoo frequently keep elephants in isolation or with only a couple other individuals. Tragically, Lucy has lived alone at the Edmonton Zoo since 2007. According to elephant behavior expert Dr. Joyce Poole, “Highly social, complex, and intelligent, no elephant should have to live alone.”
The social and family bonds that animals in zoos do form with each other are important for their health and long-term happiness, but this, too, is ignored by the zoo industry. Baby animals or animals that a zoo no longer wants will ripped away from their friends and families and sold, traded, or lent to other zoos. Sometimes, they are killed. For the zoo industry, profit comes ahead of animal welfare concerns.
Many animals in zoos display severe psychological problems, which is unsurprising since they are forced to survive in completely unnatural environments and denied the right to do what comes naturally to them. Tragically, the result is often loneliness, boredom, and neurotic behaviours. Great apes, who normally thrive in rich tropical forests, often become deeply disturbed in zoos and may even try to escape. In 2013, gorillas at the Calgary Zoo twice broke free of their cage.
Zoos and aquariums often try to justify the suffering they inflict on animals by claiming that animal captivity is educational and helps conserve wild populations. These assertions are on shaky ground. Research shows that zoo displays provide no demonstrable education benefit, and contribute little or nothing to conservation. In 2015, the Calgary Zoo even agreed to host a fundraising event for Safari Club International, an organization promoting the brutal trophy hunting of African animals.
The federal government doesn’t regulate zoos, so laws that apply to them are often sparse and vary drastically across provinces. In Ontario – which has the most captive animals – there is no licensing system for zoos, leading to a proliferation in roadside zoos, and making it impossible to shut down a zoo that abuses animals. No matter the jurisdiction, zoos are often poorly monitored and the animal protection laws that do exist are ineffectively enforced.
Aquariums cause unfathomable misery and suffering to the complex, sentient marine mammals and other creatures confined inside tiny tanks, often forced to perform tricks so visitors can be entertained.
In the wild, orcas, dolphins, and belugas are highly sociable animals who live in complex pod groupings and travel vast distances every day in the open ocean, diving in search of food. But in aquariums and marine parks, these majestic cetaceans get exercise by making endless circles in tanks that are the equivalent of a fishbowl to them.
Marine mammals stolen from the ocean by the aquarium industry are cruelly ripped away from their families and friends, and endure a terrifying and stressful journey before ending up in a tank. Although it is illegal to capture a marine mammal in Canadian waters for display, a federal loophole still allows aquariums to import whales and dolphins who were taken from foreign waters.
In addition to capturing wild marine mammals for public display, the aquarium and marine park industry also breeds marine mammals. Captive breeding of cetaceans frequently involves artificial insemination and traumatically shipping animals long distances to be on “breeding loan” in other facilities.
Captive-bred whales and dolphins often live a fraction of their natural lives. Kiska, the lone orca at Marineland, has watched all five of her calves die in captivity. Captive breeding is considered so problematic that the Vancouver Parks Board recently banned the Vancouver Aquarium from breeding whales and dolphins.
Laws protecting animals in aquariums and marine parks vary from province to province, and enforcement action rare. After multiple former employees of Marineland came forward in 2012 to blow the whistle on what they alleged were poor conditions for animals, authorities ordered the facility to make changes, but did not lay a single charge.
Many countries are banning keeping cetaceans in captivity. Recently, Ontario passed a groundbreaking ban on the future acquisition and breeding of orcas, but Kiska—the only remaining captive orca in Canada—was exempted. She will die alone in captivity.
Wild animals are used in circuses and other traveling animal displays in Canada. These animals are afforded no opportunity to live according to their biology and natural instincts; their lives are characterized by hardship and brutality.
Animals used in circuses do not volunteer to perform tricks for human amusement; they are coerced into performing through fear-inducing, abusive training methods. Tiger trainer and Bowmanville Zoo owner Michael Hackenberger was caught in a recent hidden-camera video describing this punishment-based training approach: “At the end of the day, it’s only through disincentives that you can force an animal into something.”
The abusive training of elephants has also been well-documented; trainers use cruel bullhooks, a sharp tool designed to inflict pain and force an elephant to bend to the trainer’s will.
Animals like bears, big cats, elephants, and primates often experience extreme physical discomfort from the demeaning tricks they are forced to perform.
When circus animals aren’t performing, they are confined to trailers, trucks, and box cars, shipped from city to city without the opportunity to live in conditions that bear any resemblance to what they would experience in the wild.
Although some cities like Winnipeg have banned the use of wild animals in circus performances, circuses continue to operate across Canada. Their transient nature means that it is difficult for authorities to effectively inspect circuses and enforce animal welfare laws; circuses stay in an area for only days before leaving for the next town.
Even though most Canadians oppose cruel rodeo events, these abusive shows continue to subject countless animals to serious physical and psychological suffering for the sake of entertainment.
In rodeo events, fear, pain, and stress are used to coerce animals into running, bucking, and otherwise performing. Animals used by rodeos frequently suffer painful injuries, including broken bones, torn ligaments and tendons, internal organ damage, and even death. Spectators often have no idea about the degree of animal abuse involved in these outdated events.
In calf roping spectacles, a horse-mounted rider pursues a frightened calf, lassoing the confused baby animal around the neck, and wrestling the terrified calf to the ground while tying the calf’s feet together. Calves cry out and defecate from fear and stress. Calf roping has been responsible for broken bones, paralysis, and even death.
In steer wrestling, a rider chases a frightened steer around the arena, jumping from a horse on to the steer, twisting his neck until the steer falls to the ground. This can result in painful neck injuries and death for the steer. For animals like cattle who are especially sensitive to fear, calf roping and steer wrestling events are sheer agony.
In horse and bull riding, riders compete to see who can stay on top of an animal the longest. These animals do not buck naturally or voluntarily; riders coerce them into performing by tying a “flank strap” around their sensitive hindquarters, forcing them to buck in an attempt to get the rider off and end the discomfort.
In chuckwagon racing, teams of four horses are forced to race against each other, pulling wagons along a racecourse at top speed to the finish line. Tragically, horses are inevitably injured and killed in during these dangerous races, making them one of the most controversial rodeo events. Over 65 horses have been killed in chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede since 1986, mostly due to injuries from crashes, and heart attacks caused by the stress of racing.
Even though inflicting distress on animals is illegal, law enforcement officials have refused to lay charges against rodeo events. Many jurisdictions, including Vancouver, have banned or strictly limited rodeo events in recognition of the serious harm they inflict upon innocent animals.
Horses are sensitive and gentle animals, beloved by many as cherished companions. Yet the horse racing industry treats horses as mere commodities, disregarding their welfare and prioritizing profits and gambling.
Whips are used liberally by the horse racing industry in Canada, inflicting pain on horses to force them to run faster.
Horses used for racing suffer from catastrophic injury rates, breaking their ankles and legs or collapsing from illnesses, overwork, travel, and stress. Race horses are often fed performance-enhancing drugs, sometimes to mask injuries and force a horse to keep performing in place of rest and recovery. Instead of providing a critically-injured horse with veterinary care, all too often the standard response is to euthanize an injured horse who can no longer to turn a profit.
Many horses who reach the end of their racing careers are slaughtered. Instead of retiring to a grassy pastures, former race horses are typically sold at kill auctions, trucked long distances, and end their lives in a horrifying slaughterhouse. They are turned into horse meat – even though the racing drugs they are fed often make their flesh unfit for human consumption. A 2008 CBC undercover investigation revealed appalling conditions at horse slaughterhouses in Canada.
– need whip shot – coming!
– Jump accident.jpg – A horse buckles on impact during a jump race.
In commercial dog sled races, drivers force dogs to run hundreds of kilometres at fast speeds in short periods of time. Because drivers have a financial incentive to win races, dogs are pushed to move sleds as quickly as possible and often get little rest or sleep. Many sled dog races have seen dogs die exposure to extreme weather conditions and overexertion.
When sled dogs are not being forced to pull sleds, they are often kept in poor conditions, tethered to posts and denied to ability to play, frolic, and act like dogs normally do. Their welfare is inherently compromised by the sled dog industry.
Tragically, sled dogs may be shot or otherwise killed when their usefulness to their owners is over. One appalling incident in B.C. in 2010 saw dozens of sled dogs brutally killed execution-style in front of one another after an economic slow down meant that their owner felt burdened by their continued existence.
Greyhound racing is illegal in much of the United States, which is why many people are surprised to learn that Canada has a greyhound dog racing industry. Tragically, greyhound racing exploits vulnerable dogs for the sake of gambling, entertainment, and profit.
Greyhounds are bred for the racing industry. Instead of enjoying the love of a family, these friendly dogs face a lifetime of forced racing and being confined to pens and crates. Like horses, racing dogs face severe injuries, illnesses, and even heat stroke.
When greyhounds have outlived their usefulness to their racing masters, they are often doomed to be killed if they cannot find an adoptive home. Breeding greyhound dogs for racing also puts further pressure on the already-strained dog shelter and rescue community in Canada, and leads to the increased euthanasia of other shelter animals.
Trophy hunters gun down countless wild animals in Canada every year for thrills and to display their body parts as perverse proof of their hunting prowess. Often times, hunters will target the largest and healthiest males, wreaking havoc on animal populations. Sometimes trophy hunters will even organize killing competitions, such as a recent coyote killing competition in Alberta.
In B.C., trophy hunters are allowed to kill the province’s iconic grizzly bears for trophies, even though nearly all residents strongly oppose this cruel slaughter.
Many people are also surprised to learn that Canada allows the slaughter of polar bears for trophies, even though these majestic bears are facing serious population pressures due to climate change.
Trophy hunters are also known to travel abroad to places like Africa to gun down exotic animals and are often legally permitted to ship their kills back to Canada.