Whilst holidaying with family recently we visited a garden centre that included a ‘Pets & Aquatics’ centre and also a ‘Family Farm’, the latter which we had to pay to visit. I wasn’t the one paying yet I was reluctant to have money parted with for me to look around; I’m not sure why – the website says it cost around £2.50 per person but I’m sure it was more than that on the day. I was prepared to sit and wait while my nieces went in, but in the end I rescinded. I suppose the money goes towards the upkeep of the animals after all.
To begin with we had looked around the Pets & Aquatics part for free; these creatures were for sale. There were some rabbits, but lots of different coloured fish, and birds too. Fish don’t really interest me so I couldn’t explain them any better than that but my sister and I joked about buying things just to let them go; there were a couple of tanks with some dead fish in which was sad to see although all tanks, and the place in general, looked clean and creatures well enough cared for. The birds were particularly beautiful and it was lovely to see pairs sitting together and grooming one another, one had just had a bath and was all ruffled and looked especially cute; again, we joked about letting them go, or at least buying some so they were no long stuck in the cages there.
On to the Family Farm and there were a variety of bigger creatures, from llamas, pigs, ostriches, goats, and even a fox. My niece particularly likes foxes but it was a little bit of a shame for her to see this one asleep on a shelf in its cage – so near yet not quite close enough for her to fully admire – they’re nocturnal creatures after all and would generally keep their distance from humans.
Again we talked about the animals there, in captivity, in confinement, and questioned why. Perhaps some had suffered injuries. One or two signs for certain animals explained this, but not all; others appeared to be just there for no reason. It would have been nice to know.
If an animal suffers an injury or gets separated from its mother when young then having such a facility to take them in seems to be a good thing. Ideally such an animal could be released into the wild later on, but rehabilitation can be difficult. Without this final step these animals spend rest of their days here. This seems like a saddening prospect but what’s the alternative.
At the end of the day these animals were there to educate the visitors, to give some people their first opportunity to see such an animal in the flesh rather than on a screen or in book. I think I had seen them all before which is partly why I had my earlier reluctance. Beyond education the animals were providing some entertainment; they didn’t need to do tricks to provide this, they just needed to go about their day-to-day business, this was interesting and sometimes amusing enough, especially when you got to feed them. All this provided an income for the Farm.
Back at home and we have our pets. From cats to dogs, guinea pigs and hamsters. We provide loving homes for these, and with the cats and dogs, they can be a much-needed home as my cat when I got him needed one. Other pets might be purchased though. Is this right? There are plenty of cats and dogs that are in need of homes, yet some people breed them and even earn a living from this. Either way our pets can be amusing to us and provide a form of entertainment. We can train dogs to do tricks or develop routines that appear clever. Sometimes some amusement perhaps goes too far though, such as when I put a strip of sticky tape along my cat and laughed as he walked in a peculiar fashion; I leaned this from a Youtube video. It doesn’t harm the cat, it just seems to annoy them a little. I told a friend about this at the time and she thought it was utterly cruel. I could see her point, but it was still funny to me – I only did it once yet the memory still tickles me.
Then there are circus animals that are there more for the entertainment than the education as such creatures might be in a zoo. Trained to do clever tricks and skilful feats, before being put back in a cage at the end of the day. Where do we draw the line between what is good and kind, to what is morally or ethically right or wrong, to what is cruel and harmful?
My late friend Wally, who was set to turn 90 this year, was very much a ‘Save the Tiger’ kind of person – he often talked to me about a pipe dream of his to create a tiger sanctuary on Anglesey, North Wales. There are many tales (no pun intended) of him putting animals first, such as stepping aside to let a horse and its rider past whilst out on his bike (should we even be riding horses, is another question) – because “animals should always go first”. Wally had approached me on a number of occasions to provide him with the latest news from such websites as the Born Free Foundation’s, in fact I had some printed off ready for him to collect but he never got round to collecting this before his time was up. I visit the website again now and a recent article announces “that the UK government looks set to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England, and has introduced a Bill that should make this a reality by January 2020. [And how] Born Free is wholly opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses and considers the practice to be unethical. It has been calling for a ban for many years.”
It’s not that this ban is in place yet, but it is in the pipeline. I’m not sure where I stand on this prospect. Certain things obviously bother me about the treatment of animals, as outlined above, but the topic is rarely so black and white. What is to happen to animals that are already a part of the circus trade? Once they can no longer be used in this way and earn their keep, why would an act keep them and feed them? How is there a supply of such animals in the first place? What happens to that supply or the people who perhaps earned a living from it? Is it simply wrong to have animals perform tricks (or specifically in exchange for money), while having them on display at a zoo is okay? While I don’t recall having been to a circus with animals I imagine the circus is all such animals know and they have been raised to enjoy it, similar to how their human sidekicks do. What of the use of animals in films that are equally trained to do clever things for our entertainment? Perhaps they can all be replaced with CGI. Maybe all such real – and normally wild – animals will be removed from view and replaced with artificial ones, as if they no longer exist, similar to animals in Blade Runner. Where do we draw the line?
The European Circus Association – ECA – has ‘Animal Welfare’ as a heading on its homepage, so it is clearly a big topic and issue for them. It states:
The European Circus Association expects its members to guarantee flawless husbandry for their charges and to observe certain standards when working with animals. It is an artistic choice by the circus directors whether or not they want to present animals in their shows. The European Circus Association fights for their right to make this choice…
The Wild Animals in Circuses Bill will ban circus operators in England from using wild animals as part of a travelling circus. Scotland has already introduced a ban on wild animals, and Wales has proposed a ban.
How do you define “wild animal” if it has lived this life of captivity for as long as it can remember? It seems the definition is “that, as a matter of common knowledge, are naturally ferocious, unpredictable, dangerous, mischievous, or not by custom devoted to the service of mankind at the time and in the place in which it is kept.” It sounds quite broad.
It appears the ECA will lose their battle sooner or later. Does this make the animals the winners or mainly the people that oppose the use of them in this way?