Animals in Entertainment

Animals have been and will continue to be used in entertainment, often to the detriment of the animals. While laws are helpful in banning and regulating certain practices, it is the demand for entertainment that will always keep the business flourishing.


"Animals in Entertainment" refers to any animal(s) used to act, perform, fight and/or kill for the enjoyment of humans. The term encompasses many different forms of entertainment – from circuses to movies to bullfighting. Except for a few situations, most animals are taken out of their natural environment to perform acts not typically in their behavioral repertoire. Domestic animals who appear in films are an exception as many are able to stay in their natural habitat. Exotic animals used for entertainment, such as elephants, tigers, and dolphins, are taken from their respective habitats and may be starved, beaten or otherwise maltreated to become submissive to a trainer. Many of these animals are continually maltreated throughout their performance years in an effort to make them behave accordingly. Most of the training occurs privately, making it easy for many to deny that cruelty to animals exists in the entertainment field. However, if one looks closely during the circus, for example, it is apparent how these animals are treated - performers threaten tigers with a whip and often hit elephants with metal rung on their legs.

Historic Roots
It appears as though animals were used for entertainment purposes since ancient times. Archeological findings in Macedonia that date back to 2,000 B.C.E. (Library Index) reveal that lions were kept in cages for the benefit of humans. The Circus Maximus in Rome began in 2 B.C.E. and is one of the most well-known entertainment venues in history. Chariot races, which involved horses, were the most popular and often resulted in death to both human and horses. Another popular event involved lions and human gladiators fighting to the death. The stadium always reached its capacity of 270,000 spectators.  Circuses today are just as popular. While they no longer include fights to the death, the inherent act of animals performing against their will and living in atypical conditions suggests cruelty.

Dog fighting is assumed to have existed since the domestication of the species. (Wikipedia). Some dogs were bred and continue to be bred for this purpose. Dog fighting is often associated with the English, who reveled in this blood sport for hundreds of years. However, most cultures have practiced dog fighting throughout history. During the 12th century, dog fighting was very popular in Japan. This was a peaceful time in Japan’s history and dog fighting was encouraged to retain some aggression (Wikipedia). Today, dog fighting occurs in most countries, even with laws against the practice.

Cockfighting, while not as popular as dog fighting, is still prevalent around the world. In the United States, cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states (not illegal in MS til 8/2008) .  Cockfighting is considered to have cultural significance in many parts of the world and in Mexico, a famous concert hall is host to many fights. The history of cockfighting is recorded in ancient literature of the Tamil Nadu region of India, dating back 2,000 years (Wikipedia).

Bull fighting is a legal blood sport in Spain, Portugal and Latin America and is enormously popular.  Like dog fighting and cockfighting, bull fighting has strong historical significance. Killing a bull was considered part of a sacred ritual in Roman times. (Wikipedia)There is some opposition to bull fighting but the sport continues to be a popular attraction.

The rodeo originated in Spain and Mexico in the sixteenth century yet it is often thought to be of American origin. Texas and Wyoming consider the rodeo their state sport yet it is widely practiced in many US states. While the rodeo is not a blood sport, there are numerous practices that inflict pain to the animals, including metal and electric cattle prods, tail twisting and calf roping (Wikipedia).

The most popular forms of animal racing are horse, dog and sled.  There are opportunities for abuse in each of these “sports”.  In response to the death of Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby, ASPCA President Ed Sayres noted “the sport of horse racing is no different than other forms of entertainment where animals are forced to perform, oftentimes in stressful and inhumane conditions. These include being raced too young before reaching physical maturity, being raced excessively, being forced to run on hard or slippery surfaces or being injected with drugs to enhance performance.”  (ASPCA)

Greyhounds are poorly treated in dog racing.  They are typically housed in a substandard manner.  Those that do not win races are culled regularly with only a small proportion having the opportunity to be adopted into a home (Grey2KUSA).  There are also reports of abuses occurring in sled dog competitions, which can be very different from recreational mushing events (Sled Dog Action Coalition).

Animals have been and will continue to be used in entertainment, often to the detriment of the animals. While laws are helpful in banning and regulating certain practices, it is the demand for the entertainment that will always keep the business flourishing. Dog fighting and cock fighting are illegal in many parts of the world yet it is often practiced illegally.

Some countries, including Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland, and Singapore have restricted the use of animals in entertainment (Wikipedia).The UK and Scottish Parliaments have committed to ban certain wild animals in travelling circuses. Many people are starting to feel uncertain about animal acts in circuses and are opting to avoid circuses and find alternative forms of entertainment.  Cirque du Soleil is one example of a growing trend – an animal-free circus.  A list of animal-free circuses can be found at
Another positive trend is protecting animals that appear in movies. When a movie rolls the credit -“No animals were harmed in the making of the movie”, one can be assured that this is true. American Humane Film/TV unit monitors about 1,000 movies, commercials and TV shows in the US each year.   American Humane’s role in protecting animals in movies, which began in the 1920’s, was not accepted easily and they were often forced off of movie sets with guns.  Eventually, protecting animals became part of the Haze code, which regulated morality in films. When the Haze code was disbanded in the 1970’s, American Humane Film/TV staff members were not welcome on movie sets once again. In the late 1970’s the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) welcomed animal actors into their organization and now animals actors continue to be protected under SAG. Currently, these guidelines are very stringent, even more so than USDA regulations. American Humane only monitors American movies, filmed in both the US and overseas, but they hope to eventually work in other parts of the world, where the safety of animals is often overlooked.  (Jone Boneman, personal communications, Feb 5th, 2008)

Well produced film and television programs, which use humanely trained animal actors working in supervised conditions can be educational as well as entertaining.  One example is the 1983  Oscar nominated film “Never Cry Wolf,” based on the true story of Farley Mowat, a government researcher, who was sent to research the "menace" of wolves in the north.  Through this experience, he learns the true beneficial and positive nature of the species.  Set in the Canadian tundra, Mowat sets out to collect evidence of the harm the wolf population was allegedly perpetrating on the caribou herds. In his struggle to survive in that difficult environment he studies the wolves and realizes that the old beliefs about wolves and their threat were inaccurate.  Furthermore, he learns that humans represent a far greater threat to the land and to wolves, a species which plays an important role in the ecosystem of the north.  The wolves filmed in this movie were well trained performing animals. 
The film “Gorillas in the Mist” brought the wonderful work of Dian Fosse to a wide audience and introduced the world to the intricate relationships and emotions of gorillas in the wild.  Real gorillas were used in this film wherever possible.  In some scenes, where using a real gorilla would have proven difficult, actors in gorilla suits were used.

No one will ever forget “Born Free” and the lives of Elsa and the pride.  Real lions, and their complicated social interactions and pride hierarchy was brought to life for a wide audience who may not have ever seen lions in the wild before.

There are many other educational films and television programs which accurately represent animals while utilizing animal actors.  Such works can advance knowledge of animals and raise awareness of their lives and needs.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
A host of organizations in the United States and across the world came into being  to prevent cruelty to animals.  These organizations differ in their focus from companion animals, wild animals, performing animals, farmed animals, etc.  Each of these types of animals may be involved in the entertainment industry in a variety of ways.

Key Related Ideas


  • Animal Welfare:  the compassion and respect due animals as living, responsive beings.  Animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and this is not to be left to the compassionate impulses of humans, but is an entitlement that must be protected under the law.


  • Agility training -  Dog agility involves a trained dog running through an obstacle course that includes jumps, hurdles and weave poles among others. While it may seems like an easy task for a dog to complete, there is a lot of training involved. However, dogs who participate in agility training seem to enjoy it and are often rewarded with praise and treats. Agility training is one form of entertainment that both the dogs and the audience enjoy.


  • Dog and cat shows, or conformation shows as they formally know, are very popular and like agility training, can be enjoyable to both the dogs/cats and the audience.  One of the most famous shows, the Westminster Dog Show, is broadcast nationally and involves much pomp and circumstance.  These shows often highlight a various breeds’ characteristic and can be educational to the public who is interested in bringing a dog or cat into their family.

Important Beings Related to the Topic

  • Tom Rider—Former Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus and Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus employee who was a whistleblower concerning the circus’ treatment of elephants.



  • Jane Goodall – A pioneer in the study of chimpanzee behavior argues against using animals in entertainment.   

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • American Humane Association.  The mission of the American Humane Association, as a network of individuals and organizations, is to prevent cruelty, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of children and animals and to assure that their interests and well-being are fully, effectively, and humanely guaranteed by an aware and caring society.  www.american


  • WSPA  The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is an international animal welfare organization.  It is also the world's largest alliance of animal welfare groups, connecting over 889 independent animal welfare organizations (known as "Member Societies") in 153 countries to raise the standards of animal welfare around the world.

Related Web Sites

Bibliography and Internet Sources
ASPCA News Alert May 9, 2008, ASPCA Responds to the Death of Eight Belles.




Dog Fighting.

Grey 2K USA.

History of Animals in Entertainment 

The Internet Movie Database, "Never Cry Wolf."

Sled Dog Action Coalition.