The world is not-so-quickly realizing that most animal acts are less than ideal, at least for the animals involved. Circuses, petting zoos, and traveling exhibitions tend to have less-than-stellar track records when it comes to animal welfare.
But under the okay of the USDA, the acts continue. Including dog-riding monkeys, also known as cowboy monkey rodeos. One such act, the "Banana Derby," is making an appearance at the Hialeah Fair, which opens this Friday at Hialeah Park, along with a petting zoo and exotic animals on display like tigers.
Neither the fair's PR folks nor the derby owners returned our request for comment, but we did speak to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) about these types of performances. Check out what they said after the jump.
"As far as the whole monkey jockeys thing, it's something we get a lot of complaints about from the public," says Lisa Wathne, Captive Wildlife Specialist for the HSUS. "People recognize that this is something that is not enjoyed by the monkeys and in fact is likely very frightening for them and can possibly cause them real harm."
The HSUS has even released a fact sheet outlining their opposition.
At the Hialeah Fair, the act is described as "race where monkeys dressed in jockey outfits race trained dogs around a track. Fairgoers can even meet the monkeys up close and personal after the races, which are held several times each day." USDA reports on the derby's operator have come back clean, Wathne says.
But while such performances may technically be legal, they really shouldn't be, Wathne says.
"Unfortunately the USDA is allowing it to continue. Anyone who exhibits animals in this manner, whether it's a circus or monkeys riding dogs, they have to be licensed by the USDA and abide by the Federal Animal Welfare Act. The regulations for the AWA are extremely weak and very, very poorly enforced."
The HSUS has testimonials from lots of animal experts, from DVMs to zoologists, condemning the acts.
"The level and type of restraint used in these exhibitions is designed to make the monkey completely helpless in an extremely physically demanding situation. This puts tremendous stress, both physical and psychological, on an otherwise competent being. It is my expert opinion that these cruel and inhumane spectacles should be stopped immediately," said Gail Laule, President of Active Environments zoological consulting firm.
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"I've been working in the animal field for almost 20 years and I currently work as a primate keeper for the Oakland Zoo which is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. I was disgusted when I viewed several videos of capuchin monkeys being placed on dogs to perform in front of large audiences. There is no question this is an animal welfare issue. These monkeys are being placed in a stressful situation where they could be seriously injured or killed," said Kristin Mealiffe, String 4 Primate Keeper at the Oakland Zoo.
Basically, the best way to put an end to these types of performances is to complain directly to the venues hosting them. In this case, that's the Hialeah Fair. And really, are we seriously entertained by monkeys on dogs? Let's stick with stupid human tricks instead. Lord knows Florida has enough of those.
"Whenever we do get those complaints we urge people to also contact the venue, the people who hired the act, to express this. That's how it's going to stop. People don't realize what power they have." Amen to that. (And the Hialeah Fair is on Facebook, in case you have anything to say.)