Target: Randall D. Sampson; President, CEO, and General Manager of Canterbury Park
Goal: Permanently terminate exotic animal races and retire the animals to reputable sanctuaries.
The cruelty and controversy of horse racing has been well-documented. Excessive whipping, illegal performance enhancing drugs, crippling injuries, and premature deaths or retirements ending in slaughter are all standard practices at most horse racing tracks. At Canterbury Park, however, horses aren’t the only animals susceptible to the cruelty of racing. Zebras, camels, and ostriches are forced to race on Canterbury’s annual “Extreme Race Day.” Audiences are promised fun and exciting races featuring exotic animals to keep them entertained in between normal horse races, but these races are anything but fun for the zebras, camels, and ostriches.
Videos of these races often show the animals running in panicked zigzag patterns, desperate to rid themselves of their jockeys. Commentators jokingly warn audience members sitting closest to the track to be careful, as the animals have been known to be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. These behavior patterns should be anything but surprising. Zebras and ostriches are wild animals that are not accustomed to having anyone or anything on their backs. Add to this the stress of thousands of people screaming and clapping, and their frantic bucking and attempts to escape the track are completely understandable. While camels may not be as wild as zebras and ostriches, as they have been domesticated over the course of thousands of years, the act of racing is still extremely unnatural to them. They are built for long, slow-paced treks through the desert, not a sprint down a race track. It is no wonder, then, that they have been known to be temperamental on the track.
These races pose a threat not only to the animals but to the jockeys and audience. The sport of horse racing is dangerous enough without the added unpredictability of racing animals that are not meant to be raced. Spectators may find the animals’ deliberate attempts to dethrone their jockeys entertaining, but there is nothing funny about possibly being trampled, crushed, or pecked by a crazed, fearful animal. Not only do these animals pose the threat of coming into the stands and causing chaos, they may also harbor diseases. It was just last year that Canterbury temporarily canceled its ostrich race due to an avian flu scare.
Canterbury Park’s backwards tradition has gone on long enough. It’s time to end Extreme Race Day and to retire these exotic animals to respectable sanctuaries where they can receive proper care and never be forced to race again a day in their lives.
Dear Mr. Sampson,
Canterbury Park’s “Extreme Race Day” may be entertaining to spectators, but to the animals being forced to perform completely unnatural behaviors, the race is anything but fun. Ostriches, zebras, and camels are not meant to be raced, and forcing them to do so is unnecessarily cruel. Footage of these “extreme” races show clear evidence of these animals’ fear, panic, and discomfort. Their concentrated efforts to buck off their jockeys and get off the track show that they have no desire to race. It is despicable to think that they have to endure this kind of stress just for a few minutes of human entertainment.
By endorsing these races, you are not only condoning animal cruelty but exposing the riders and spectators to additional dangers that could be easily avoided. Animals under great duress can be extremely unpredictable, and it could simply be a matter of time before someone is trampled by a panicked zebra or violently pecked by an ostrich on the loose.
Maybe you perceive these animals simply as a way to make more money, draw bigger crowds, or stand out from the competition. However, the safety and well-being of these animals and the people working with them are far more important than any benefit to you. The potential risks far outweigh the rewards of a one-day annual event. Don’t wait for tragedy or a lawsuit to force you to cancel this event; do it now with dignity. Please end Extreme Race Day and retire the ostriches, zebras, and camels to reputable sanctuaries where they can live out the rest of their days in peace.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Johan van der Merwe