Positive developments in 2016


By Jennifer O’Connor

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Most Americans are still feeling a bit frayed by the divisiveness of the presidential election. It’s easy to feel jaded and worn out, and many commentators happily noted the end of 2016. But while it was easy to get caught up in the more lurid headlines, a ton of uplifting things happened during the year, particularly for animals used in the entertainment industry.

Let’s begin with elephants. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which has been forcing elephants to travel and perform for more than a century, pulled the animals off the road in May. They will no longer be chained up and hauled around in fetid boxcars. When a circus as big as Ringling makes a decision like that, you know the days of performing elephants are numbered.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore also made a precedent-setting decision: It will send the eight dolphins in its possession to a coastal sanctuary. Animal advocates around the world have called on aquariums and theme parks to stop exhibiting marine mammals – and this is the first step. Protected sea pools afford dolphins and orcas room to move around and some degree of autonomy and self-determination. They’re able to see, sense and communicate with their wild cousins and other ocean animals – and they finally get to feel the tides and waves and have the opportunity to engage in the kinds of behavior that they’ve long been denied.

SeaWorld is starting to see the writing on the wall. In May, the corporation announced that it would stop breeding future generations of orcas, who would have to spend their lives in cramped tanks. But kind people everywhere are calling on the corporation to release all its animals into coastal sanctuaries. As the public’s condemnation of captive marine mammal displays continues to grow, there’s little doubt that protected sea pens are the wave of the future.

Travel giant TripAdvisor recognized the trend towards compassionate tourism and stopped selling tickets to most excursions using animals for entertainment, including cruel “swim with dolphins” programs, elephant rides and tiger photo ops. Since many facilities dupe visitors into believing that they’re helping animals, many vacationers unwittingly support cruelty by patronizing them. But by informing travelers about the dark underside of these excursions and refusing to offer them, TripAdvisor’s new policy will have a very real impact on animal exploitation in tourist traps.

Nearly a half-dozen roadside zoos – where animals suffered in filthy, ramshackle cages – closed their doors in 2016. Families are turning their backs on exhibits in which bears are confined to concrete pits and tigers pace in fetid pens.

But progress for animals hasn’t been limited to the U.S. In Argentina, a judge found that Cecilia, a chimpanzee languishing in a Mendoza zoo, isn’t a “thing” but rather a sentient being who is “subject to nonhuman rights” – and ordered that she be sent to a sanctuary. Countries as disparate as Norway and Iran banned exotic-animal acts. While 2016 was a good year for animals, there’s always more to be done. We all have the power to spare animals pain and suffering in the year ahead – and beyond – simply by making kind choices about what we do for entertainment.

Jennifer O’Connor is a senior writer with the PETA Foundation.

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