In some Spanish towns medieval fairs are held at least once a year and they go on for several days. They are traditional themed festivals which recreate spaces and activities from the Middle Ages. At these events different species of animals are on display at the market (generally ducks, hens or pigs) and rides on donkeys, ponies or in a horse -drawn cart are offered. Even though it should not be included in the context of a medieval fair, exhibiting birds of prey and allowing the general public to have their photo taken with them has also become popular. In some fairs snakes and other wild animals are on show, taking advantage of the chance to make some money out of them.
During the fair you may not notice any type of abuse or explicit suffering, however, the conditions in which these animals are forced to live are deplorable. The constant moving from place to place, living in reduced spaces, the work they have to do, the continuous presence of crowds and constant noise produces great stress which is bad for their health.
More than 60,000 animals are used annually in local festivals in Spain.
In some parts of these fairs you may see falcons, eagles, owls and other species of wild birds tied up and wearing a blindfold. Their owners have them perform shows designed to exhibit typical training techniques which are used in falconry (a hunting activity in which birds of prey are trained to catch and retrieve their prey). As well as being able to watch the animals performing or while they spend most of the time tied up, passers-by are also invited to have their photo taken with them.
Birds of prey are wild animals that have many difficulties adapting to a life in captivity. They have obvious basic needs in their status as flying carnivorous birds, which are hard to cover in conditions of captivity. They also suffer from the stress of being constantly moved from one town to another and being exposed to the noise of hundreds or thousands of people over the course of several hours. In the fairs the birds are on show to the public throughout the day, in spite of the fact that the majority of the species are nocturnal creatures, and they remain tied up or caged most of the time.
Having them at these events also carries a risk for the general public. They are wild animals with physical characteristics which could cause severe injury, especially to children and anyone who has no idea about their biology, behaviour and handling. Falconry can be very dangerous. Furthermore, the message it gives to the public through exhibitions is counterproductive to the conservation of these species. It encourages the plundering of eggs from their nests and projects the wrong image of what these animals are and how they live in the wild.
The Spanish Ornithology Society, in its position on the use of birds of prey in falconry, manifests that exhibitions with birds of prey should be abolished since they lack veterinary support and guarantees of safety. These exhibitions also foster acceptance, which means that the general public forget that wild animals, which should be living in their natural habitat, are being used. Furthermore, the exhibitions may even instil the desire to own one of these animals as a pet.
Contrary to what is commonly believed, the use of equids as a means of transport or traction is far from an ethical activity and involves several problems related to the wellbeing of the animals.
In medieval fairs horses, ponies and asses are tied up all day long waiting for customers to come along and ride them. The weather conditions are often extreme and their owners generally don’t have either the means or the necessary infrastructure available to them to safeguard against bad weather. The crowds, the constant noise and even the fireworks used at these fairs cause great stress to these animals, which is worsened by the fact that they have no way of escaping. These equids are used either to be ridden by visitors or they are made to pull carts full of people. Having to carry such a load for several hours at a time, without rest, adds tiredness to the stress factor.
The yokes that are used to keep them still or control the animals may produce injuries to their skin. The excess of weight or work may cause muscle pain or dehydration. The changes in their feeding routine and chronic stress may lead to painful colics and may claim the life of the animal.
For these and other reasons vets specialised in equids advise seriously against these practices.
Furthermore, from an ethical point of view this type of interaction lead the general public to consider it to be normal and acceptable to master other living beings at a whim, without considering its needs or physical state. Respect of animals, of nature, and even of other people is not learnt by riding on a pony or a donkey.
At the state level