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A Closer Look at Elephant Acts, Pony Rides and Petting Zoos

In the next few lovely summer days you'll be seeing events that include pony rides, 'performing' elephants used for rides, and petting zoos.  All you'll see are animals going round and round in circles while children laugh and jump on and off them all day long, or as they chase chickens and sheep in a pen.  'What's the harm?' most would say, watching this activity; but as animal advocates we ask that you look beyond the 'rides' and laughter, and think about these animals' lives for a few moments - and think about what you're teaching your children by patronizing these events.  Think about where these animals came from...and where they're going when they leave.  

All these animals have families of their own, who they love just like humans love their families.  They are taken from their own families to do stupid, unnatural 'tricks' and give rides ...a poor, broken-down, arthritic elephant being used for 'rides' at a yearly event in Cortlandt was leased out by a company with numerous violations and infractions. No one cared about her as they plunked 7-8 kids on her back, who screamed with joy as she hobbled around, watching the 'trainer' holding the bullhook (an elephant remembers a good beating, which is what the bullhook is used for)...thankfully a few good souls took our literature going in - and came back out with newly-opened eyes, people who actually bothered to think about what they were participating in, a few with tears in their eyes...with their help we put a stop to that exploitative abuse.

The owners of the elephants who just appeared at an illegal event in Spring Valley have REPEATED violations for failing to provide veterinary care for elephants with open sores and foot wounds. (www.circuses.com)  Those elephants were also made to spin in circles and sit on little chairs; but an 8 ton wild animal doesn't perform these unnatural behaviors merely for a peanut...and why do we need to witness such bizarre acts in the first place?

The elephants these companies use travel the circus/rides/tourist attraction route while almost being almost unable to be tracked; and all must be 'broken,' by methods the trainers don't want the public to see; this is where it starts:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcvGGe-zpIA
and this is where it ends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOxLBqtmc5M

Elephants and ponies are not fed or watered prior to the event - 'don't want to make a mess in front of the kids!'... they are loaded on and off overcrowded trucks (which keeps overhead costs down)  travel long distances all day long, then are forced to plod around in endless circles while children are dumped on and off their backs for hours on end in the heat, often in ill-fitting equipment that causes chaffing and sores.  Ponies are not protected by the Federal Animal Welfare Act, and if local or state officials do not intervene - which they rarely do, being either understaffed or 'romanced' by the owners of these events - the results for the animals can be serious: Sick or injured animals go without veterinary care, which cuts into profits.  And when these animals are too sick or old to perform as required, they are again transported...not to a sanctuary, but to an auction house:  Google those words...to see a picture of hell on this earth, to see pictures and stories that are not for the faint-hearted. 

These animals have the constant weight and irritation of a saddles on them all day; just because we are used to seeing this image doesn't make it right.  And do you think that pony or elephant really needs to have between 50 and 400 pounds of screaming,  kicking children repeatedly dumped on his back while he walks in circles in the blazing sun all day long?  

Animal rides and petting zoos are gross animal exploitation, almost the worst kind because they're aimed at children - who are always joyous to see them - and the purveyors of these events know that, 'It's for the kids, what's the harm in that?'  People refuse to see beyond their own needs to entertain their children; and of course they're not seeing the downside right in front of them, so they don't think about it.  But our concern is specifically for the animals' well-being - although a side 'result' may be more compassionate, humane citizens as well, which is always a plus.  

Since I began as an animal advocate, I encourage people to think about where the animals at a particular came from - and where they're going when they leave - be it in circuses, rodeos, zoos,  tv shows...and yes, petting zoos and animal rides. 
Think about the fact that these animals aren't blocks of wood: They are sentient, intelligent, sensitive beings..  I have vet friends who have treated 'petting zoo' animals who were crushed - and some killed - by the larger animals in transit.  Children are often placed inside the petting zoo enclosure and chase the frightened ducks, chickens and geese who are unable to get away from them.  Their natural behavior is ignored, for the sake of profit off entertaining children for a few minutes.  "Beyond the unsanitary aspect of petting zoos, I think they're cruel to animals. Keeping them in a small corralled area where curious kids harass them is just cruel. I try to discourage my toddler from participating."   http://www.momlogic.com/2008/09/petting_zoos_are_dangerous.php#ixzz2VpMsHVE7

Do children 'learn' anything about the animals at these events?  Not much that helps the animals; they 'learn' that they are our property, that they are 'ours' to do whatever we want with.  Stew Leonard's Supermarket keeps an on-site petting zoo with a cow, goat and sheep - 5 feet away is a hamburger stand.  And again, think about where the animals go when they are no longer 'cute,' and they're a little older, more crotchety, need medical care: All these are for-profit businesses - that sheep or chicken ain't going to the 'Home for senior petting zoo animals.' Neither is the pony.  

It's too easy, when either animals,  children, or the elderly are involved, to cover up omissions of care, abuse and worse - medicine costs money, extra care costs money - and those three are frequently the unfortunate victims who 'can't tell,' who have no voice, making it easy for exploiters to abuse them.  

From a legal standpoint,  consider that lawsuits have been filed by families whose children 'loved' the petting zoo - till their child supposedly contracted E Coli from it, or was knocked down by an irritated goat, etc.  And the limited staff can in no way ensure that one of several children won't drop/kick/hit an animal...who then reacts with aggression toward the child.  
http://animalrightscoalition.com/doc/petting_zoo_factsheet.pdf
http://www.veganpeace.com/animal_cruelty/zoos.htm
http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20020415&slug=pasado15m
http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/traveling-petting-zoos.aspx

Elephants have also rampaged in the U.S., which is downplayed in the meda; a particularly heart-breaking event involved an elephant who, after killing the trainer, had to be shot 86 times in front of a horrified public before she collapsed in the street and died.

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