The state- and county-fair circuits are rife with exploitative animal displays. Animals suffer tremendously when they are carted from town to town and forced to perform; they live in an almost constant state of discomfort, frustration, depression, and anxiety.
Always on the move, exhibitors rarely take the time to rest and exercise animals, and sick and injured animals often go without veterinary care. Please read the following information about the different types of animal exhibits that are featured at fairs. If you encounter any of these cruel displays and see an animal in distress, please contact local authorities immediately.
Animals as ‘Prizes’
Big Cat photos
Booth operators at many state and county fairs breed big cats to draw paying customers. Once they grow too large to be safely handled, older animals are frequently discarded at roadside zoos or sold to exotic-animal dealers.
Three 11-day-old tiger cubs died when exhibitor Craig Perry, operator of Perry’s Exotic Animal Petting Zoo, used them in photo sessions. Although Perry knew that the cubs were sick, he did not provide them with veterinary care. Since 1990, more than 200 dangerous incidents involving big cats have been reported.
Elephant and Camel Rides
Life on the road for elephants is in profound contrast to their lives in the wild. Elephants are highly social animals who live in matriarchal herds. They are protective and caring, and they travel together as families. Captivity-induced health problems such as foot diseases and arthritis are common and life-threatening. Camels, too, are free-roaming animals who are confined to transport trailers and small pens, despite their imposing size. Displays featuring camels also put people at risk: Humans can contract brucellosis, ringworm, and tuberculosis from close interaction with camels.
Exploitative events such as “Sea Lion Splash” and dancing-bear shows portray intelligent animals as silly clowns. The acts that these animals are forced to perform are demeaning, and trainers often employ cruel behind-the-scenes training techniques—such as beatings and food deprivation—to force animals to perform tricks that are unnatural, frightening, and even painful.
4-h and Agricultural Displays
Mouse or Rat ‘Roulette’
Small rodents—such as mice, rats, and gerbils—are placed on a roulette-style wheel, which is then spun. Dizzy and reeling, the animals eventually drop into a hole on the board. People who placed their bets on the number that the animal drops into “win” a prize.
The animals used in petting zoos are hauled around in tractor-trailers, confined to small pens and cages, and forced to interact with large crowds of people. The animals are rarely allowed to rest when on display, and they often develop health problems from this forced interaction.
Tethered tightly to turnstiles and forced to plod in endless circles, ponies can suffer from hoof ailments, and many suffer from sore, chafed skin caused by ill-fitting equipment. Ponies are not protected by the federal Animal Welfare Act, and when local or state authorities fail to intervene, the outcome can be fatal.
Racing or Diving Pigs and Greased-Pig Contests
Highly intelligent and sensitive animals, pigs—including some who are young and still developing—endure mishandling, noise from crowds, and blaring music in these contests. Spectators at these events, especially children, often do not know that most of the pigs are sold for slaughter at the end of each season.
Unfortunately the rodeo—a violent spectator “sport”—is a staple at many state and county fairs in the West and the Midwest. In rodeos, gentle animals such as horses and calves are provoked with spurs, tail-twisting, or electric prods or have straps cinched tightly around their abdomens to make them buck and run wildly around the arena.
What You Can Do
If you see cruelty to animals at any state or county fair, don’t hesitate to take action. Anyone can file a cruelty-to-animals complaint or ask the local animal control agency to check on an animal.