Local and national animal advocacy groups are calling an end to a Mississippi fair’s “animal scrambles” that involve children chasing and “catching” animals, including rabbits and chickens, in an arena.
Though the fair, held in the Tippah County city of Ripley, hosts scrambles involving several types of animals, the rabbit scramble has attracted the most condemnation. That’s likely because photos and videos of the rabbit event appear to show the children picking rabbits up and holding them off the ground by their ears.
“Not only is this event terrifying and painful for the rabbits, but it can cause lasting damage including broken ear cartilage, fractured spines, and can even cause the skin to separate from the rabbits’ backs,” national animal rights group In Defense of Animals wrote in a statement about the Tippah County Fair and Livestock Show.
Photos showing kids holding white rabbits up by their ears or by the scruff of their necks at the 2015 fair were previously posted on a Tippah County local news Facebook page, but appeared to be deleted as of Thursday. (Cropped versions of some of the photos can still be seen on the House Rabbit Society website.) And a video that IDA says is from the 2014 event shows multiple rabbits thrashing around as children hold them by the ears and run across the arena. Some kids also drop the bunnies on the ground.
The rough handling qualifies as animal cruelty under a Mississippi state law specifying against carrying an animal “in a cruel manner,” allege Animal Advocacy of Mississippi and IDA in a joint statement.
Fair organizers did not reply to multiple requests for comment from The Huffington Post. However, they wrote on Facebook that the scrambles will be held on Aug. 11.
While most animals don’t appreciate being chased, it’s particularly traumatic for prey species like rabbits, Linda Sue Malie, founder of Florida-based rabbit rescue group Rabbits In Need Inc, told HuffPost.
“Being prey animals – being chased is one of the worst things you could do to them,” said Malie, adding that most rabbits associate being picked up off the ground as “being taken by a predator.” Malie learned about the event online and has since spearheaded efforts to spread the word about the harm it can cause.
Critics also say the event sends the wrong message to kids, who can take home any animal they catch as a prize.
“Swathes of impressionable young children are being encouraged to treat animals as unfeeling, disposable objects who can be abused for fun,” IDA wrote. “The only qualification for bringing home an animal is the child’s ability to chase and grab him or her.”