From fishing to TV shows, our favorite activities and pastimes often use animals as a source of entertainment, so it’s easy to overlook any possible mistreatment they may face.

Unfortunately, there are valid arguments that these traditional forms of entertainment may be considered exploitation or even cruel.

Animals involved in entertainment are often subjected to such stressful and unnatural environments that the animal’s handling is considered cruel. Exploiting animals to perform as entertainers exposes them to a range of improper care and treatment that is brutal and inhumane.

We must take a serious look at things like circuses, zoos, aquariums, and more to see how these performances exploit animals, and whether they should exist at all.

Why Traditional Entertainment is Cruel for Animals

Animals have been used for our entertainment for hundreds of years that we have woven these experiences into our traditions.

It is hard to reconcile what we considered amusing in the past is now cruel and wrong. But recognizing and acknowledging what animals have endured is a good step toward improving their lives today.

Imagine you are taken from your home and forced to live on the other side of the world in a small room. You may see other people occasionally, but mostly you live alone. This is only a fraction of the inhumane treatment we inflict on animals.

Animals feel the cruel consequences of having to leave their natural environments. Whether it is acting out behaviorally, suffering from illnesses, or dying too early, animals suffer greatly when taken away from their natural habitats.

Examples of Traditional Entertainment That Are Cruel to Animals

Whether it is a ten-minute petting session or an expensive all-inclusive safari, certain forms of entertainment are considered cruel to animals.

They include:

  • Bullfighting
  • Circuses and performance-based traveling shows
  • Cockfighting or dogfighting
  • Dog racing
  • Elephant, camel, and donkey rides
  • Film and television
  • Fishing and Hunting
  • Lion displays, petting sessions, and walks
  • Marine life shows
  • Zoos and petting zoos
  • Safaris

A deeper dive into a few of these traditional forms of entertainment may help us understand why these would be considered animal cruelty.


People have been collecting and displaying animals for personal use for hundreds of years, but allowing public viewing of animals began with Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century. Today, there are around 2,400 facilities licensed to exhibit animals, but only 212 are members of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA).

Zoos are primarily designed with our convenience in mind. We can walk through the zoo gates with our paid ticket and see many animals from all over the world in one place. Zoos enable us to skip world travel and see each animal person.

Zoos take animals out of their natural habitats and place them in enclosures designed to mimic their natural living environments. The physical displacement of an animal can lead to extreme stress, and being forced to leave set social structures in the wild can cause new and troublesome behaviors.

There is even a term given to the emotional distress that zoo animals go through called zoochosis. If you’re interested in learning more, we tell you exactly why zoos are cruel and why they are still convenient for animal rehabilitation here: Are Zoos Cruel to Animals?

How Zoos Are Changing

Many zoos now promote themselves as research or conservation facilities and shy away from the issues of confinement and unnatural living conditions. However, these types of zoos are a small percentage of the total licensed facilities. The zoos that are moving to better practices are helping animals in multiple ways such as:

  • Reintroducing animals into the wild
  • Research
  • Funding of conservation-focused organizations
  • Proper breeding programs in captivity that encourage diversity within the species
  • Education programing

This new perspective on zoos can be troublesome, especially if you enjoyed visiting zoos as a child. But, acknowledging the harm that many animals experience and doing your part to make changes can offer a more lasting and rewarding experience than a quick laugh.

Circuses and Performance-Based Travelling Shows

Just thinking about the movie Dumbo will bring tears to anyone’s eyes. It’s been known for many years that circuses treat their animals in a violent and cruel way.

But, due to decades of public pressure and protests, many circuses, such as the Ringling Bros, have been forced to discontinue their live animal shows – particularly elephant shows.

Several cities have also stepped up and have passed local bans on live animal performances and the use of cruel training devices.

This is due to the possible endangerment of animals. Some ways that circuses and other traveling entertainment shows can be harmful to animals include:

  • Forcing animals into small enclosures.
  • Removing animals from their natural habitat.
  • Promoting illegal trade and improper breeding of exotic animals.
  • Punishment to animals for not performing.
  • Leaving animals malnourished and sick.

Aquariums and marine parks are also a form of entertainment that puts ocean and sea-based creatures at risk.

Usually, aquatic animals like orcas and dolphins swim in vast ocean environments and naturally have complex and sophisticated social structures. An enclosure with a smaller living space just doesn’t match up to their real-world environments.

Did you know that orcas are one of the only animals in captivity that are known to commit suicide? These highly evolved animals have a level of emotional intelligence that competes with humans – so why strip them of their lives to perform tricks?

You can find out everything you need to know here: Are Aquariums Cruel to Animals?


The sport of bullfighting is controversial because its roots stem from religion, not sport or cruelty. In Mesopotamia, when one of the first bullfights occurred, bulls were sacred and had religious significance. Bullfighting has since evolved into a sport and is mainly performed in Spain and Portugal.

In Spain, bullfighting is part of the culture, considered by many as a sport or art form. The shows begin with the bullfighter’s dance and performance but always ends in suffering and death for the bull. The unnecessary suffering and death of an animal for entertainment purposes is cruel.

Bullfighting also takes bulls out of their natural environments and confines them to smaller living quarters not normal to them, which stresses the bull. Additionally, the pressure to perform may also lead the bull handlers to mistreat or abuse the bull.

Once again, these animals are treated very poorly and die a traumatic death at the hands of their matador. Find out why here: Is Bullfighting Cruel?

Fishing and Hunting

Hunting and fishing in the United States is a treasured form of entertainment. These industries' combined revenue amounts to almost $150 billion a year, and stores and catalogs across the US are dedicated to selling products focused on these sports.

The hobbies of hunting and fishing are socially accepted on a global scale . There are even several for-profit exotic animal hunting parks where trophy hunting takes place.

Many people consider killing animals as a pastime wrong. There are many reasons hunting and fishing would be deemed cruel to animals, such as:

  • Animals suffer prolonged injury or death if hunters do not kill or recover animals after the first shot.
  • Moving animals into a preserved hunting ground means stripping them out of their natural habitats.
  • Property and other animals can be injured or killed by accident.
  • Fish incur injury from fishing hooks and are stressed during the catch.

Effects on Animals We May Not See

Removing an animal out of its natural habitat is the first sign that a form of entertainment would be considered cruel or unnatural. Sometimes the effects are apparent, but often we do not see the impact on animals in these professions.

Here are some specific examples of adverse consequences to particular animals entertaining.

  • Abnormal behavior as a result of isolation and confinement
  • Inbreeding, or the inability to breed
  • Injury from electric rods or prodding
  • Unnatural weight demands from rides or load carrying, such as in donkey or camel rides
  • Fishhooks, bullets, or arrow wounds from the survival of hunting
  • The apparent injuries on roosters and dogs in cockfighting and dogfighting
  • Mistreatment and humiliation
  • Traumatization from unnatural demands on health (dog racing)
  • Malnutrition or dehydration
  • Illegal and improper breeding techniques involved in illicit animal trading

Animals Hurt by Entertainment

People get the “wow factor” when watching animals in a contained environment that they would never be able to see in the wild. The top animals in entertainment are some of the hardest to acquire and suffer the most consequences.

Here are a few animals that suffer from traditional forms of entertainment.


Elephants are social animals that travel in packs, they walk an average of 15 miles a day, but are known to trek up to 121 miles in one day.

When elephants live in small closures, like in zoos or trains for traveling shows, they suffer because of the unnatural, isolated, and confined lives. This can lead to severe consequences, including a shorter life expectancy.

The illegal acquisition of elephants for entertainment is a reality. Wild elephants are often stolen and then sold illegally for entertainment purposes and harmed in the process of their capture and transport. Sometimes these elephants do not get the care and attention they need to live healthy, happy lives.

Paid elephant, donkey, horse, and camel rides are also considered cruel by many. The animals may be forced to carry excessive weight or work for long hours in harsh weather conditions. Their handlers may abuse the animals in their push to keep them working.

Marine Life

A man made pool at an aquarium or marine show just doesn’t match up to the natural wild ocean environment that dolphins and orcas are native to. The drastic move from the ocean to the aquarium is stressful for animals. Especially because there is a range of consequences that may occur as a result of this move.

  • Life spans are reduced: An orca’s average life in the wild is 50-60 years, whereas, in captivity, the lifespan is 10-20 years.
  • Due to their natural social groups being severed and the drastic drop in living space, dolphins and orcas developmental stress and significant behavioral issues from displacement.
  • Many marine facilities, often unsuccessfully, use improper or illegal breeding techniques, leading to reproductive issues and stress, and the promotion of unlawful breeding
  • Animals often become sick from staff not cleaning, maintaining, or updating their facilities properly.

A man made pool at an aquarium or marine show just doesn’t match up to the natural wild ocean environment that dolphins and orcas are native to. The drastic move from the ocean to the aquarium is stressful for animals. Especially because there is a range of consequences that may occur as a result of this move.


Though illegal in the U.S., dog fighting still exists. Dogfights result in dogs dying and complications for dogs who may survive.

Dogs that survive illegal dogfights often end up in animal shelters but may struggle to get rehomed because of behavioral issues from their former life that can lead to their eventual euthanization.

Dog racing is still legal in a few states, but most of the remaining states will be making it illegal soon. Dog racing forces dogs to run at high levels in all races, taxing their bodies on each race.

Dogs are often mistreated and malnourished, so they appear as a breed that performs well for the sport. Some ways racing dogs are mistreated include:

  • Dogs are confined to small spaces. Often, these living quarters are not cleaned or maintained and can lead to illnesses.
  • Inadequate time and space to recover between races leads to injury and illness.
  • High levels of injuries occur due to the athletic nature of the event.
  • Dogs are euthanized if they do not perform well or do not make money for the operation.
  • Steroids are used on dogs to enhance performance and speed.
  • Owners and handlers often use improper dieting to improve performance, which can lead to malnutrition.
  • Improper breeding and illegal trading occurs frequently.

What Can We Do?

People have been using animals for entertainment purposes for centuries, but it might be the right time to recognize the cruelty of these performances.

Although we may not be able to change the circumstances for animals today, we can consider a few things when looking at future entertainment options involving animals.

Acknowledge and Take Accountability

If animals are not in their natural habitat and are forced to do unnatural things, it might be worth considering that they are being mistreated. It is often hard to give up the things you grew up loving, but acknowledging how you benefit from cruel practices may help lower the future profit gains of these operations and facilities.

Stop Contributing to the Problem

Paying money for animal entertainment encourages business owners to keep making money at what they are doing. Despite our perception that the owner is treating the animal as their pet, the animal is likely suffering in reality. Be aware of whether or not the entertainment you pay for contributes to the mistreatment of an animal.

Spend Your Money Elsewhere

If you still love interacting or watching animals, it is still possible to enjoy them without causing them harm. Although entertainment involving animals is enjoyable, it is the right time to rethink how our spending could improve animal life. Here are two ways you can spend your money wisely to help, not hurt, animals.

Choose the Right Zoo

As mentioned earlier, some zoos are members of the AZA and have good reputations for research and conservation. These places are great for learning more about proper animal care, reintroducing animals to their natural habitats, and conservation. Choose to visit a zoo that focuses on protecting and enhancing the lives of animals.

Know What You Are Watching

Animals are often used in television and film and can be mistreated or forced to perform unnatural acts and they can be injured in the process.

Not only can animals be mistreated, just depicting these animals in the media leaves impressions on viewers that animals performing is normal and okay.

Media showing animals playing human-like roles can lead people to believe wild animals are able to adapt to our everyday lives. For example, the movie “101 Dalmations” led to a large number of Dalmatian adoptions, only to have these dogs returned to animal shelters because families were not able to care for them long term.

To make sure you are not contributing to animal cruelty, the National Humane Education Society has some good tips:

  • Avoid television shows and films that feature exotic animal performers.
  • If you have children, make sure they understand that animals depicted in movies and television are different than they are in real life.
  • Learn about the lives and histories of animal actors before purchasing films and television shows.
  • Contact filmmakers and production companies and let them know that as a viewer, you care about the welfare of animals in film.


Removing animals from the wild and forcing them to perform for us is not natural, and as a result, animals suffer. Even domesticated dogs, cats, and birds are used in traveling shows, and petting zoos can be mistreated or abused.

In confinement, animals live shorter lives and experience abnormal behavior.

Zoos, circuses, rides, and petting zoos are all considered traditional forms of entertainment. However, the downsides for these involved animals are many. These forms of entertainment may be cruel for animals, and we should reconsider these attractions before we contribute to the mistreatment of these animals.

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