Zoos and circuses: The wrong kind of education about animals

Asian elephants perform for the final time in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on May 1 in Providence, R.I. (Bill Sikes/Associated Press)

Asian elephants perform for the final time in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on May 1 in Providence, R.I.
(Bill Sikes/Associated Press)

Donaldson and Kymlicka, co-founders of the Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Ethics research initiative at Queen’s University, published today an op-ed in The Globe and Mail on the issue of animals used in zoos and circuses and what it teaches us.

Growing public unease has prompted the multibillion-dollar zoo industry to rebrand zoos as institutions of “education” rather than “entertainment,” in the hope that this will make captivity seem more acceptable. But notice that this shift is more about the human experience than it is about the situation for the animals. For them, the realities of social and environmental deprivation remain, and so-called enriched zoo habitats merely gloss over the realities of rigid control, manipulation and impoverishment, whether or not animals are trained for public performance.

Click here to read the full article.

What is Queen’s Hiding? The Importance of Transparency for Animal Protection

QAD - FOI Day heading

Over two years ago a member of Queen’s Animal Defence (and Queen’s faculty) submitted a freedom of information request concerning nonhuman animals used in research at Queen’s. Queen’s declined to release the information. An appeal was submitted, and we are still awaiting an arbitration decision from the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Office. (The decision has been delayed three times.)

Queen’s is utterly secretive about research using animals. We don’t know the numbers and types of animals used; the purpose and types of experiments performed on them; the source and ultimate fate of the animals; or the results of any evaluation of the quality or utility of resulting research. In response to requests for information, or justification of research, Queen’s invariably repeats the same mantra: it complies with the guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). The CCAC is a quasi-administrative body governed by animal research interests which establishes guidelines for animal use. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies is the only advocate for animals on the CCAC – one voice out of 22 member organizations.  In other words, the biomedical research industry makes its own rules, behind closed doors. (See this recent post for a more detailed critique of the CCAC.)

We should know by now never to entrust the care of vulnerable beings to powerful organizations acting without public scrutiny. Consider residential schools. Or the sex abuse long tolerated and covered up by the Catholic Church. Or the non-consensual surgeries, experiments and other abuses inflicted on people with disabilities and mental illness in residential institutions. These aren’t cases of a few bad apples run amok – a priest, or government agent or doctor here and there. They are structural, institutional failures on a massive scale – failures that have been deeply exacerbated by misplaced ‘trust’ in experts and authorities.

Queen’s Animal Defence has been criticized for demanding information about what happens to animals at Queen’s – as though it’s bad manners to question the ethics of the research industry, or to suggest that researchers, like all humans, are vulnerable to human frailties like professional myopia, arrogance, careerism and greed. Continue Reading

Book Review: ‘Humane Education’ by Helena Pedersen

Humane Education: Animals and Alternatives in Laboratory Classes. Aspects, Attitudes and Implications by Helena Pedersen

A Book Review by Tracey Hamilton


Pedersen - Humane EducationHumane Education by Dr. Helena Pedersen, an accomplished author and researcher at Malmo University in Sweden, is an excellent resource for educators and students alike, as it explores animal experimentation as a teaching and learning method by presenting an historical overview of the practice and a theoretical analysis from educational perspectives, student perspectives, and animal and sustainability perspectives. Pedersen adds to this study many personal stories through direct quotes from those who support and those who oppose the use of dissection and vivisection in education in order to give the reader a solid background from which to understand the importance of considering replacing animals with alternative methods for educational purposes. Easy to read and comprehend, this book is accessible to any person who finds themselves questioning the ethics and function of animal use in education. This book can help students to know they are not alone and encourage them to voice their concerns about performing dissections and vivisections, as it takes much courage and effort to conscientiously object to this common practice. It can also aid educators in not only understanding students who are opposed to using animals as learning tools, but also in deciding whether or not to offer alternatives, such as interactive physical models, CD ROMs, and videos, in their classrooms.

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Misleading Information Can Be Worse than No Information

Animal experimentation is often presented by its proponents as a necessity for securing human health that has no drawbacks: it can only help, it is said. But it is becoming increasingly known that this picture is inaccurate, as animal experimentation hurts humans in many different ways: by providing misleading results in safety studies (given the differences between human diseases and nonhuman diseases and each species’ physiology), by causing potential abandonment of useful medical treatments and by directing resources away from more effective testing methods. In other words, there is a critical, and often neglected, human cost when we choose to use animals as models in health sciences.

According to neurologist Aysha Akhtar, these costs even outweigh the potential benefits, as it is discussed in her article “The Flaws and Human Harms of Animal Experimentation” published last fall in the Cambridge Quaterly of Healthcare Ethics:

Abstract: Nonhuman animal (“animal”) experimentation is typically defended by arguments that it is reliable, that animals provide sufficiently good models of human biology and diseases to yield relevant information, and that, consequently, its use provides major human health benefits. I demonstrate that a growing body of scientific literature critically assessing the validity of animal experimentation generally (and animal modeling specifically) raises important concerns about its reliability and predictive value for human outcomes and for understanding human physiology. The unreliability of animal experimentation across a wide range of areas undermines scientific arguments in favor of the practice. Additionally, I show how animal experimentation often significantly harms humans through misleading safety studies, potential abandonment of effective therapeutics, and direction of resources away from more effective testing methods. The resulting evidence suggests that the collective harms and costs to humans from animal experimentation outweigh potential benefits and that resources would be better invested in developing human-based testing methods.

In sum, writes the author, “misleading information can be worse than no information from animal tests” (413).

Dr Akhtar has also published the book Animals and Public Health: Why Treating Animals Better is Critical to Human Welfare, in 2012, that explores in depth similar issues:

Akhtar - Animals and Publich Health