Living tortoises do not make good art

An iPad glued to the shell of a tortoise does not indicate respect for the individual animal.Using live animals for art goes against our animal welfare principles.

I am referring specifically to a current installation at the Aspen Art Museum where tortoises are displayed with iPads glued to their shells

According to an Aspen Times article highlighting the current controversy, iPads are affixed to the tortoises shells “using a noninvasive silicone epoxy material without any drilling involved” and that the tortoises are housed in an enclosure that meets standard husbandry practices. Based on that evidence, it would be wrong to claim that these animals are overtly suffering.

But does an absence of overt suffering prove good welfare?

Absolutely not. 

When looking at the welfare of wild animals under the care of humans, we can’t seek only the minimum standard of acceptable welfare, an absence of cruelty. Instead, we must ask what’s best for the animal and only compromise that standard for truly important animal or species-focused objectives.

Whether wild animals should be kept in captivity at all is a tremendously complicated and controversial issue.

IFAW believes at its core that wild animals belong in the wild. But given the reality that wild animals are kept in captivity, IFAW believes that conservation activities such as research, sanctuary or breeding programs for endangered species may justify captivity of wild animals. Welfare considerations like inability to survive in the wild may do the same.

More fundamentally, captivity of wild animals is not justified simply by the lack of overt cruelty and suffering.  We require respect for the individual animals and the species as a whole. A conservation program indicates respect. A welfare purpose indicates respect.

An iPad glued to the shell of a tortoise does not.

The message this exhibit sends is that it is okay for people to exploit wildlife so long as we avoid overt cruelty and call the exploitation art. But we believe that’s simply not good enough.

--IR

Familiarise yourself with our Statements of Principle here.

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Experts

Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Jan Hannah
Northern Dogs Project Manager
Nancy Barr, Program Director, Animal Action Education
Program Director, Animal Action Education