World Animal Protections feels, based on their research, that these venues provide "truly horrific" animal interactions that have no place in a modern zoo
dolphins performing at sea world
Credit: World Animal Protection

In a new study titled “The Show Can’t Go On,World Animal Protection (WAP), an animal welfare organization, shares the results of their global investigative survey into zoos and aquariums that are members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).

According to the non-profit, out of the 1,200 venues that belong to WAZA — “a global umbrella organization for zoos and related institutions, set up to guide, encourage and support venues in wild animal care and welfare” — 75 percent offer at least one animal interaction to visitors, some of which WAP found to be “truly horrific cases that have no place in modern zoos and aquariums.”

As part of the study, WAP did field visits to a dozen animal venues that they found particularly worrisome, based on the venues’ treatment of animals like dolphins, big cats, elephants and primates.

“The study discovered big cats in gladiator-style shows in large amphitheaters, dolphins being used like surfboards, elephants playing basketball and clothed chimps in diapers, driving around on scooters. All activities that would require cruel training techniques of these wild animals,” WAP wrote in a release about their recent study.

Only one United States venue made the list of 12: SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas.

Based on their observations, WAP claims this SeaWorld location forces beluga whales to give rides to humans and “wave” at audiences, and forces sea lions to act out scenes from famous motion pictures. Dolphins are made to “walk” on their tails and perform choreographed routines set to music, and orcas are trained to “play catch” and do backflips.

Additionally, the non-profit reported that dolphins at the SeaWorld location are trained to lunge out of the water and beach themselves as a background prop for photographs, exposing rake marks on their bodies and that these trained beachings, over an extended period of time, can slowly crush a dolphin’s internal organs.

“It is troubling that in 2019 we still have venues such as SeaWorld San Antonio inflicting this level of suffering on wild animals and calling it entertainment. Seeing wild animals perform in shows as photo props is unnatural and leads to a lifetime of suffering,” Alesia Soltanpanah, WAP’s executive director, said in a statement. “These demeaning attractions simply have no place in any modern leading zoo or aquarium whilst hiding under the label of ‘conservation.’ It is not ‘conservation’ to put animals in small tanks and force them to perform every day. That is called ‘cruelty’.”

In response to WAP’s report, a SeaWorld spokesperson provided this statement to PEOPLE:

“SeaWorld is recognized as leader in setting the standard for the best marine mammal care in the world. Accredited zoos and aquariums like SeaWorld play an important role in raising the bar on animal welfare practices, advancing vital conservation efforts and facilitating marine mammal rescues. We, along with many other bona fide marine mammal experts, and accredited zoos and aquariums are tired of activists masquerading as legitimate animal experts, and making false and outlandish claims to advance their own agenda. We welcome anyone to visit our animals and see firsthand the exceptional care our dedicated staff, who devote their lives to these animals and protecting and conserving animals in the wild and their habitats, provide.”

WAP, along with their study partner Change For Animals Foundation, are encouraging animal lovers to avoid the 12 WAZA members below until they locations change the way they treat their animals.

  • Dolphin Island (Resort World Sentosa) – Singapore
  • Zoo D’Amneville – France
  • Jungle Cat World – Canada
  • African Lion Safari – Canada
  • Cango Wildlife Ranch – South Africa
  • Sea World – Australia
  • SeaWorld – San Antonio, USA
  • Zoo Marine – Portugal
  • Puy du Fou – France
  • Avilon Zoo – Philippines
  • Mystic Monkeys & Feather Wildlife Park – South Africa
  • Ichicara Elephant Kingdom – Japan

The animal welfare group is also advising animal lovers to write to WAZA about the above venues “to ensure that they stand up for the animals suffering in member zoos and aquariums,” and to avoid any venues that provide interactions with animals that are circus-like, use animal as props, allow you to handle/ride the animals or forces animals to act human-like.

In a statement issued by WAZA in response to WAP’s report, the association said, “The report called on WAZA to make sure that harmful, cruel and demeaning interactions do not take place in zoos and aquariums. WAZA is in accord with WAP that such practices have no place in a modern zoo or aquarium. Unfortunately, the report contains a number of inaccuracies, including naming institutions which are not WAZA members and thus which WAZA has limited jurisdiction over.”

Adding that, “WAZA has a clear and openly available Welfare Strategy, Caring for Wildlife, that was developed with, and endorsed by, many animal welfare partners including World Animal Protection. Caring for Wildlife has a specific chapter devoted to engagement and interactions with visitors where WAZA recommendations and guidance are provided. WAZA takes animal welfare concerns seriously and addresses such concerns within our membership, quickly and effectively whenever possible.”

WAZA’s full statement can be read here, and, to read the full WAP report and learn more about World Animal Protection, visit their website.