If you enjoy being out and about, enjoying nature, then good for you. If you’re interested in animals, then cool. If you like visiting local attractions while on holiday, marvellous. If you think that these things cannot be enjoyed without exploiting, humiliating, hurting, caging or killing animals, then I’m here to tell you that’s a load of rubbish.
Here are ten activities involving the mistreatment of animals, along with ten cruelty free alternatives to do instead.
What is fishing really? Hanging around at the side of a river, or in a river in waders, or maybe on a boat, waiting for a fish to be hooked onto your line, line that swans can get caught up in. Hmm. We now know that fish are not only intelligent, but have great memories and cognitive skills and they certainly feel pain. Who are we to disturb them while they’re swimming along by spearing them with a dirty great hook? Who indeed.
So, what to do instead. Well, most fishermen and women enjoy the outdoors, they observe the wildlife around the riverbank and they are patient, observant individuals who are capable of being quiet for long stints at a time. I would recommend bird watching. If you’re quiet and look around, you’d be surprised by the amount of different birds and other wildlife you can see, especially if you take a pair of binoculars with you. You might see an otter or a kingfisher and nobody has to die or get hurt. You can even have a couple of beers while you’re doing it.
2. Aquariums/Sea parks
Why would you go and see captive sea life swimming round and round in an enclosure where you knew they were unhappy and where they live short and unfulfilling lives? Many aquariums and sea parks around the world have been shown time and time again to fall far short of any acceptable welfare standards. The film Blackfish exposed Seaworld for what it is, a cruel business indeed. It’s not the only one though. Why pay over the odds to see a couple of lonely looking fish and a seahorse, only to be conned out of yet more money in the gift shop?
Well, instead of that bleak scenario, I have a few suggestions. If you have children, just taking them swimming can be a magical experience. The sensation of floating, especially if you’re lucky enough to get into the sea when it’s not freezing, is a fantastic activity. On colder days, investigate rock pools when the tide is out and have the fun of discovering star fish and little crabs and limpets. If you’re feeling more adventurous there are places in the UK where you can snorkel and dive for that unforgettable aquatic experience. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to go somewhere abroad the opportunities are endless. I’ll never forget snorkelling off the coast of Australia and meeting a sea turtle who was in no way bothered by my presence and just went about his business, with me observing from a respectful distance. To be part of that world (to quote The Little Mermaid) for just those few minutes was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I’ll remember it forever. All I’ve ever felt when visiting an aquarium is sad.
3. Bullfighting/Bull running
Now, do I really need to go into why this is barbaric? I don’t think so. If you’re unsure of what goes on with Bull Fighting, then have a look, but I warn you, it is a sickening sight. Bull running, as they do in Pamplona in Spain every year, ends up pretty much the same way, with the bulls dying in the ring.
So, onto a happier subject, what to do for thrills and spills instead? Well, if watching a fight is your thing, then I’d say a more fair one was the way to go. Boxing is on all over the place these days, and if two grown men or women punching each other is your idea of a night out, then go for it. As for running through streets being chased Indiana Jones-style, how about the Running of the Balls? Yes, you read that right. An alternative has been suggested that if you’re keen on careering through the cobbled streets of Pamplona, the maybe you’d like to be chased by giant polystyrene balls. Well, you might do.
4. Circus animals
Thankfully there are only a handful of circuses in the UK that still use wild animals as part of their performance, but that’s still too many. People have petitioned parliament to try and get the practice banned altogether but so far, no dice. Animals such as elephants and tigers have to undergo unbelievably cruel training methods to get them to do silly, pointless things. Even horses and dogs get a poor deal of it, so best avoid them altogether, or best of all make your voice heard.
Instead of going to see an animal circus, go and see one with only humans – easy. I’m not a great one for circuses myself, but I have seen Cirque du Soleil once and the performers were amazing. The trapeze, the high wire, the fire eater, even the sodding clowns are all far more enjoyable a spectacle than watching a miserable, de-clawed lion being poked with a chair.
5. Horse drawn carriage ride
Now, you may think these seem harmless enough, but in reality the horses work for long hours, tethered uncomfortably and in New York for example, there is a campaign to ban the practice, backed by the current mayor, as many horses have been injured or killed in accidents.
So, perhaps you could hire a tandem bike with your loved one instead to explore the park. Or maybe a go cart is more your thing. But if you really want to turn on the romance, hire a boat and row out into the lake. Perfect.
6. Horse racing
Again, many people may not realise the inherent cruelty involved in this ‘sport of kings’ and I’m the first to admit that I didn’t until relatively recently. You’d be shocked if you knew how many horses die as a result of racing.
Instead of all that, how about going to see an athletics event if you want to cheer someone to the finish line. Any live sporting event can have a tremendous atmosphere. I’ll never forget my family edging away from me as I screamed for Scotland to win at the rugby sevens. I went quite purple in the face.
7. Hunting pheasants/Grouse shooting
The conditions that these birds are bred in is quite appalling, never mind that the only reason they are bred is to be released and shot by someone wearing tweed. It’s bad for the birds, the environment, and our pockets as a result of public subsidies.
Far better, if you like getting out and about with your dog, you can do just that and no need for a gun. There are so many beautiful areas of countryside in the UK – that’s the beauty of living in such a small country, greenery is never too far away. If you really must shoot a gun, then shoot it at clay pigeons or targets. You can even wear faux tweed while you do it.
8. Sea lion/parrot shows
These are some of the most degrading forms of ‘entertainment’ I know, other than the X-Factor. The training methods involved are far from nice, and if you think that seals or sea lions really want to honk that horn or that a parrot is just desperate to ride a bicycle, you’re quite mad.
If you’re lucky enough to see dolphins in the wild, they may chase a ferry you’re on or flip and play with each other of their own accord. If you’re keen on seeing complicated manoeuvres mastered, go to the ballet or any other dance show. If you’re desperate for a laugh go and see stand up. Or a children’s dance show. (I was one of those children once, and totally aware of how hilarious I looked.)
Do you really want to be the one in the silly hat who shot Bambi’s mother? Do you?
Why don’t you do some paintball instead. There’s strategy, you get to shoot moving objects (people) and you don’t need to look like Sherlock Holmes. An indoor laser shooting game may suit you if it’s raining and you can even wear your deerstalker as they take place in the dark.
This is a tricky one for me, as I grew up near a zoo and every other primary school trip was there. I remember being fascinated by the animals, but I also remember feeling annoyance at my fellow classmates who banged on the glass and sympathy for the poor creatures forced to tolerate it. What I didn’t realise at that tender age was that the big cats who prowled back and forth weren’t showing off to us, they were displaying signs of severe mental distress. I also didn’t realise that the penguins had to have regular surgery to remove bits of litter thrown at them by their adoring public. Zoos can’t hope to replicate a natural environment for any animal. They simply don’t have the space apart from anything else.
Instead of watching lonely, upset animals pacing or rocking back and forth, perhaps you could visit a sanctuary. Be very careful that it is a sanctuary though and not just some petting zoo in disguise. You could always go on an ethically responsible wildlife trek here or abroad, but again, check their credentials. You’ll find some advertised by animal welfare organisations.
So there you have it. A visit to the beach, botanical gardens, woods or rivers can reveal all sorts of exciting animal encounters and human animals are your best bet for entertainment shows. If you’re ever in doubt if an activity is kind or not, take a look at the animal involved and ask yourself, how would I feel if I were them. Then, you’ll have your answer.