“It’s Showtime” – Animals as amusement objects

Animals as show and amusement objects – as foreign as this idea may at first seem to us and as strange as it touches us, so common is the use of the most diverse animals in the field of science. The real intentions and realities all too often deviate from a perhaps perfectly reasonable original idea. Apart from many obvious health and behavioral biologically relevant problems of the animals, ethical questions in particular arise to what extent the intrinsic value and the dignity of the animal itself are safeguarded at such events. The fact that beauty pageants in large exhibition halls are associated with the highest stress levels and hygienically questionable problems is countered by the argument of the necessity of a dog or cat breed show. The zoo, which today sees itself as a scientific institution serving conservation, education and research, is not always averse to entertainment and merchandising concepts involving the animals. And “Europe’s last chimpanzee show” in a South German amusement park seems to be finally beyond the limits of a still contemporary presentation of animals. “My PET” spoke to Dr. Judith Benz-Schwarzburg from the ethics department of the Messerli Research Institute on the problem of animals as objects of amusement.

Question: Mrs. Benz-Schwarzburg, how are such events to be judged from an ethical point of view?

Dr. Judith Benz-Schwarzburg: “Large apes belong to those species, which are particularly in danger of being caught by a trend of entertainment at the expense of the animals. As highly intelligent animals they are well trainable for shows, successfully used in demonstrations and profitably marketed. Costumed animals, shoe-shimmed and squad-driven as clowns, disguised as Indians, sit around the campfire, make phone calls or lie down in their pajamas, are highly humanized. In their imitation of typical human activities they seem awkward, the animal does not behave naturally, but grotesque and funny. Its intrinsic value as a living being with species-typical behavior no longer matters. This is highly problematic from an ethical and pedagogical point of view. ”

How can this ethical problem of animals in show and event management be summarized?

Dr. Judith Benz-Schwarzburg: “Using the example of the chimpanzee show, we see how animals are used for a specific purpose. I would like to talk about instrumentalization. The purpose of such events is not found in the animal itself, but the display of the animals is used exclusively for our entertainment. This is a problem in itself, because the animal itself would not wear leather pants and Schuhplatteln. Not only is this a behavior we practice, but we use the animal as we see it to behave in a way that has nothing to do with its natural abilities. By contrast, I could think of a show in which an animal shows its species-appropriate behavior, which can also be entertaining: animal trainers can retrieve a natural behavioral repertoire. But when I think of a seal that gives the trainer kisses, or a dolphin who wears sunglasses wearing colorful hoops, it takes on another artificial-looking character. Then the trainer can no longer credibly assert that it is about demonstrating the value of the animal, educating visitors about their natural behavior and encouraging people to protect species, but then it’s about something else, about entertainment. We really do not want to see that in a modern zoo. ”

But how do we imagine a modern zoo?

Dr. Judith Benz-Schwarzburg: “There is, for example, the umbrella organization of the WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums), which has published an ethics codex to which all member zoos subscribe. These are scientific zoos and have u.a. the claim to show no unnatural behavior and dolphins just not to do things with sunglasses. You want to present yourself first and foremost as a species protection and educational institution. This is the field of tension in which the zoo has always moved. The foundation of modern zoological biology has four goals: protection of species, research and education – this reflects the claim to science – and finally the fourth goal: entertainment. This aspect has always been part of the zoo and that will not change, but it depends very much on what gains the upper hand in the orientation of the zoo. An indicator is, for example, the selection of animal species. A zoo that has a strong focus t will put on endangered species, you can expect endangered species. He will try to participate in breeding programs and successfully carry out reintroduction programs. Opposite is a selection of animals that the visitor would like to see – and there are some popular species that are by no means threatened with extinction.

But for an effective protection of species, there are alternatives to the zoo?

Dr. Judith Benz-Schwarzburg: Of course! These would be, for example, species conservation projects that provide sheltered and successfully captivated animals that are threatened by the public. However, these are programs where you as a zoo visitor can not even pass by and spend a Saturday afternoon. Or one could think of game and safari parks, where the animals live in much larger areas, are freer, and can retire better. One could imagine that the zoo in the cramped urban limited space is replaced by a nature reserve or wildlife park in the sense of a wildlife sanctuary. Of course it would not be possible, as in the zoo, for the visitor to actually see the animal. The Bronx Zoo in New York, for example, is currently intentionally designed so that the visitor does not immediately see something. He just has to be patient to sit down, watch and wait – and if he’s unlucky, he just will not see the panda that day.

That certainly has a pedagogical value …

Dr. Judith Benz-Schwarzburg: Yes, it indeed makes for some visitors for frustration, but you learn that the animal is not presented, but comes and shows up – or not. In addition, one could argue that well-crafted documentation teaches far more about the natural behavior of animals than a non-species-appropriate presentation at the zoo. Why should our children here in Central Europe or in Southern Europe have the right to see a polar bear in the zoo?

But does not the problem of the presentation of animals already start with the various almost daily dog ​​and cat shows?

Dr. Judith Benz-Schwarzburg: That would be quite ethical to analyze and one of the most urgent questions is what interests are at stake here. I have the suspicion that it is very often the animal as a prestige object in the foreground. There are also endless welfare problems in this area. As so often in ethics, there are various arguments for discussion. Of course, in all of the mentioned areas in which animals are presented, the welfare arguments are of enormous importance, ie the questions of whether the animal feels comfortable in this situation or whether behavioral disorders occur. These are the topics that deal with the sensibility and suffering of animals. And even then we can classify many practices as ethically problematic. But we also see cases where, first of all, one has to objectively say that the animal is – relatively – well. In the further consideration, however, follow the difficult and complex ethical concepts of dignity, the intrinsic value of the animal and the instrumentalization that should not be forgotten. These problems of degradation are conceptual and conceptually far more difficult to grasp than obvious welfare problems.

Miss Dr. Benz-Schwarzburg, thank you for the interview!

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