Monday, 23 November 2015

Animal-Rights: Entertainment, Education and Money

Whether animals are used in entertainment or educational situations is actually irrelevant to the animals concerned.  They have no way of understanding the reason or context of their life in human care.

Supporters of the animal-rights lobby will use various arguments or position statements that actually have no relevance to any debate or argument involving animal welfare.  One of the rhetorical statements often made, particularly within social media, is that animals are being used for "entertainment" and "financial gain".  This may well be true, but not only is this statement misleading, but it also has nothing to do with animal welfare.

The position of animals in entertainment has quite a long history which not only involves traditionally animals within the circus but also animals used in theatre, films, television, and advertising.  This situation has also been extended by lobbyists to also include zoos and aquariums, particularly those that present animal demonstrations and shows.

Perhaps one of the most important things to examine is exactly why entertainment (that uses animals) should be any more of a problem than animals being displayed in an educational situation; something that some members of the animal-rights lobby and their supporters seem to feel is less offensive or problematic.

First, whether animals are used in entertainment or educational situations are actually irrelevant to the animals concerned.  They have no way of understanding the reason or context of their life in captive care.  The whole issue is one of animal welfare and it is quite possible that an animal being displayed for educational reasons may well receive a lower standard of welfare than an animal that may be displayed or used in entertainment.

Further, the demarcation between entertainment and education is generally blurred with many public displays of animals having some form of educational component.  Even in events, such as circus displays, the owners and trainers of these animals do in many instances actually wish for their audiences to appreciate their animal's skills and talents beyond the ascetics of performance.  In addition, even in the field of education, the concept of edutainment (educational entertainment) has gained intrinsic value even in formal situations such as schools, colleges and universities.

Moreover, many countries have legislation in place that regardless of the use of animals regulations exist that protect their welfare.  In the United Kingdom, there are various regulations that affect animal keeping institutions across a very broad spectrum of enterprises, including both zoos and (since December 2012) circuses with wild animals.  There are also regulations for animals being used in advertising and film-making and the inclusive overarching welfare legislation contained in the 2006 Animal Welfare Act.

One would hope that with this array of protection the animal-rights lobby could formulate better arguments (or indeed mount legal prosecutions) against animals being displayed in their various guises in the United Kingdom in situations they do not approve.  Unfortunately, this isn't the rationale of the animal-rights movement who tend to mount their opposition to the use of animals in the public domain based on an ideological construct, not on animal welfare.  It is a sad fact that the public, unfortunately, does not make the actual distinction between animal-rights (a political ideology) with that of animal welfare (a scientific discipline).  This basic ignorance is readily exploited on a regular basis by the animal-rights movement.

They also have no qualms in exploiting certain demographics in the population who may have poor scientific literacy and critical thinking skills (Jerolmack, 2003).  This results in individuals who are prone to look at animals and their behaviour through the distorted lens of anthropomorphism.  Moreover, in the age of the growth of social media and the rise of Slacktivism the animal-rights lobby are assured of large numbers of un-thinking individuals prepared to promote their political agenda.

As previously stated, it is not only the issue of entertainment but also that of financial gain seems to be an issue for many of those supporters of the animal-rights lobby.  However, this is somewhat of a false dichotomy if you are going to compare entertainment with education because regardless of criteria both these entities require funding of some nature.  Moreover, as pointed out above, the division between entertainment and education is not as clear-cut as animal-rights supporters would like to promote.

Finally,  it could also be maintained that organisations such as PETA (and other members of the animal-rights industry) also exploit animals for financial gain.  A cursory glance at the websites of these groups reveals a constant barrage of messages asking members the public to donate money to these organisations; some could say for no little return for the genuine welfare of the animals these groups claim to support.  In fact, in the instance of PETA, some of this donated money actually goes to killing healthy animals.