Entertainment animals are those that perform or are displayed publicly to amuse people. These animals appear in circuses, carnivals, animal shows and exhibits, amusement and wildlife theme parks, aquariums, zoos, museums, fairs, and motion pictures and television programs. Although these venues are diverse, they all have one thing in common: They use animals for human purposes. Many of these purposes are purely recreational. Others combine recreation with educational goals, such as teaching the public about the conservation and preservation of endangered species. In either case, the animals are a source of income for their owners.
Entertainment animals include both wild and domesticated types. Wild exotic animals such as elephants, lions, and tigers are the most popular. They are objects of curiosity because people do not encounter them in their daily lives. The word "exotic" means foreign or not native but also suggests an air of mystery and danger that is very alluring to people, who will often pay to see exotic animals living in cages. Domestic animals, on the other hand, must do something to make money, since most people will not pay to see ordinary dogs and cats lying around. They might, however, pay to see them jump through fiery hoops or walk on their hind legs pushing baby carriages. They will pay even more to see wild animals do such things.
This unnatural basis of the exotic animal business is what makes it unacceptable to animal rights groups. They believe that wild animals should live in the wild, unaffected by human interference, and not forced to do things that do not come naturally to them. Animal welfarists fear that exotic animals are not housed, trained, and cared for in a humane manner, particularly at circuses, carnivals, and roadside zoos and parks. The animals at these venues frequently are treated poorly, living in deplorable conditions without access to veterinary care. Performing animals must be trained to be entertainers, and many trainers use cruel and abusive methods.
Animal rights advocates feel that even nonperforming captive wild animals live unnatural existences. They are either removed from their natural habitats or born into captivity. Some people argue that this is beneficial to the animals and the perpetuation of their species. Animals in the wild face many dangers, including natural predators, starvation, hunters, and poachers. Their natural habitats in many parts of the world are shrinking as human developments take up more and more space.
Some exotic animals live longer in captivity than they would in the wild, and some species might die out completely if humans did not capture specimens of them to preserve. Large zoos often do this kind of work, and they may also take in exotic animals that have been surrendered by or rescued from smaller, less capable zoos and parks. However, even these large zoos are in the entertainment business, earning money by displaying captive animals to the public. Does the end justify the means? This is one of the fundamental questions in the debate over animals in entertainment.