Brands need to consider their impact on captive wild animals

Brands need to consider their impact as exploitation of captive wild animals continues

With the use of wild animals in circuses continuing in some countries, and exotic pet keeping as popular as ever around the world, international wildlife charity Born Free is calling on luxury and high-street brands to be more aware of how depictions of wild animals on products and in advertising can promote animal cruelty.

As part of its Goodbye to the Circus campaign, Born Free is concerned that we have become so used to seeing images of wild animals exploited for entertainment that we no longer see the cruelty. From performing sea lions on children’s pyjamas, lions and elephants on a circus canvas, a toy circus train that transports an elephant, and circus print fabric with lions and elephants, a quick search online will easily display all these products being sold by major UK high street retailers. They’re marketed as retro, vintage, or fun – even though they all depict wild animals living or performing in the cruelty of a circus.

In January 2020, a nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses was introduced in England, following a similar ban in Scotland since May 2018. Both these bans had overwhelming public support, and yet consumers continue to buy products depicting animal exploitation.

And it is not just circus-themed products: Major luxury fashion, auto and fragrance brands, for example, often use live or CGI wild animals in their big-budget ads, usually accompanied by sleek cars, models and celebrities. While there is no dispute that CGI is preferable to the use of live animals, presenting wild animals being controlled or manipulated by humans is no longer an acceptable message in today’s society. Brands should consider the message that these products and adverts send – to children who grow up seeing wild animals in the circus as “normal”, and to easily-influenced young adults aspiring to an affluent lifestyle portrayed with exotic animals as pets and playthings.

“Born Free is wholly opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses and the exploitation of wild animals for entertainment,” explains Dr Chris Draper, Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity at Born Free. “We believe it is outdated, demeaning and unacceptable to force animals to perform unnatural behaviours for entertainment and to exploit captive wild animals in circuses, performances, human interactions, and in advertising, film and television.”

Draper continued: “It is concerning that brands and advertisers still don’t seem to consider the effect that their exploitation of wild animals can have on people’s attitudes to animals. In today’s social media world, if a celebrity is seen holding a jaguar, tiger or lion cub for example, public interest in replicating this experience goes up, and we even see an increased demand for these animals as exotic pets. Wild animals used for advertising, entertainment or as pets will experience a lifetime of restriction and compromised welfare, and may even suffer direct abuse.

And while pictures of animals in the circuses might seem harmless enough, we would be justifiably appalled to see, for example, bear-baiting on kids products; we need to start seeing these ‘innocent’ images for what they are – representations of animal abuse. It is time for big brands to take some responsibility and teach the next generation the right way to respect the natural world.”

To support Born Free’s Goodbye to the Circus visit

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