Keep wild animals in the wild

The tiger-mauling of entertainer Roy Horn of “Sigfried and Roy” leaves people wondering what went wrong. The 7-year-old tiger that had appeared in the show since it was 6 months old should have been comfortable with Horn, but this tragedy proves otherwise.

I suspect Roy’s prized white Bengal tiger, a wild animal, was agitated — wild animals attack when they are upset. The tiger isn’t at fault because it was doing what nature intended tigers to do. Accidents like these could easily be prevented if circuses, theme parks and zoos would stop using wild animals for entertainment purposes.

When one goes to a circus or theme park, one usually sees animals interact with their trainer in a friendly, obedient manner. But do you see where the “amazing” animals sleep at night or how trainers really teach their animals tricks?

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, most animals in traveling shows live in “beast houses,” in which the cages are hardly big enough for some species to turn around in. Each animal’s “house” is where it will eat, sleep, drink, defecate and urinate for the duration of the show. When the animals are actually free from their beast houses, they’re still anchored in. Elephants are commonly tied by one of its front and back legs with a chain or rope, so it cannot step forward, backward or lie down. Ultimately, a performance animal spends about 10 percent of its life working, while 90 percent is spent in confinement.

This extreme lack of exercise, affection and stimulation results in devastation for these creatures. Animals confined for long periods develop abnormal behaviors such as head-bobbing, rocking, pacing, bar-licking, aggression and self-mutilation. Chimpanzees, for example, frequently arrive at sanctuaries with their hands covered in scar tissue from the stress of confinement.

In addition to the psychological abuse and neglect, animals in the entertainment industry often live a life plagued with physical abuse. Bull-hooks, whips, electric shocks, chains, baseball bats and metal pipes are regularly found on circus premises. The “bull-hook,” a solid metal pipe with a sharp hook at one end, seems to be a popular training device among elephant trainers. They jab the hook into sensitive areas, such as the inside of the mouth or behind the ears, to let the elephant know it’s not performing a trick correctly.

A woman and her children in October 2001 watched as a tiger was repeatedly whipped for failure to jump to a higher perch. The trainer, of the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, ended up slapping the tiger on the nose, which caused the tiger to strike him back with his paw. The trainer justified his actions by describing “how violent the tigers could be.” Wouldn’t you expect violence from anything after you whipped it for five minutes? These examples are only a few in the multitude of abused show animals.

How can this inhumane treatment of animals persist? What happened to compassion and respect? Unfortunately, most trainers would say they haven’t lost their compassion and respect because there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. They feel their discipline is necessary; otherwise, the animals would never listen to them. But does this make abuse acceptable? Others maintain that animals in captivity live longer and safer lives, but how can they be better off in a place where they are punished for acting naturally?

Whether or not Horn comes through, I firmly believe the problem could have been avoided if he didn’t use an endangered Bengal tiger as a source of entertainment and play. It is possible that he never hurt the tiger, but it doesn’t change the fact that a tiger is wild and that is where it belongs. Remember this the next time you feel like going to the zoo or visiting the circus: do the distressed animals a favor by not seeing them, because the less interest we have in seeing show animals, the less interest trainers will have in showing them.

Kit Hasapopoulos, Minnesota Daily , University of Minnesota