Legality of the Use of Animals for Recreational Purposes in India

Lianne D’Souza, Research Fellow, CEERA

Ritika Singh, 1st Year B.A., LL.B., SVKM NMIMS Kirit P Mehta School of Law


The concept of superiority of human beings over other creatures has led to disturbances and fluctuations in the delicate ecological set-up, often creating friction between those beings claimed to be “complex” and nature itself. The fragility of the ecological balance in nature is threatened due to negligent act of humans, guided by sheer self-gain. Such distortions in the environment are clearly evident in the interface between humans and animals. Animals have long been viewed as sources of labour, nutrition, entertainment and recreation. For the same reasons they have been expropriated in ways that have led to devastating exploitation; an apt circumstance being illicit forms of recreation, like hunting of endangered fauna that goes unchecked. Human beings have often derived pleasure from recreational activities associated with animals. History reveals that animals have been viewed as a source of human leisure in context of sports and entertainment. Such an inter-relationship between animals and humans has raised many concerns in light of animal rights and welfare.

The dilemma revolving around animal rights arises while granting such “rights” to animals, as with all rights and interest come correlative obligations and duties. This concept of ‘rights’ vis-à-vis animals has often faced stark criticism since animal rights are primarily conceived from the interests human beings have in them. This not only leads to an anthropocentric understanding of animal rights but also construes the idea of animal welfare in a rather narrow perception. Furthermore, since the predominant view regards animals are “sentient” beings in their own right, the difference is understood in terms of whether these beings with rights share the same emotional quotient as that of human beings. This has been criticized as too simplistic a distinction. Animals have evolved alongside humans as we have vested our interests in them, and thus they deserve specialised welfare. But this understanding of animal rights in terms of human interests gives way for animals to be treated as property which can be exploited. Thus, there exists the urgent need to review and reform the existing legislations, to analyse their gaps and inconsistencies and correct the same immediately. There is a compelling need to define, what may be generally termed as ‘acceptable’ limits to exploitation by prohibiting ‘unnecessary pain and suffering’.

In India, the legal framework has time and again vindicated the rights of animals through legislative enactments and regulatory mechanisms. Even the Indian Constitution has recognised the need for promoting animal welfare and compassion for animals.[1] Unfortunately, despite the existing legislative framework addressing animal rights and well-being, the worsening and rather inhumane condition of animals continues to prevail in India. With particular reference to the use of animals in recreational activities, there is growing concern regarding the abuse and exploitation of animals for human gains. As such, it becomes pertinent to identify the grey areas in the existing regime that underscores these problems and to provide a robust framework that ensures utmost animal welfare.

Prevalent Examples of the Use of Animals

It is the undisputed truth that animals should be given the freedom to perform their natural functions. As beings with physical independence and emotional and cognitive skills, it is only natural to assume that they ought to be allowed to carry out those functions that they, by nature, are created to perform. This being stated, the situation is far less clear in relation to domesticated animals because of complexity of their domesticated nature and the difficulty that arises in determining the natural functions of domesticated animals. On one hand, their domesticated nature implies some sort of utility for human beings; which essentially implies that the function of these animals is to provide the products that they have been bred for. In other words, domesticated animals would have no use or would simply cease to exist but for human use and would serve no utility if transferred to their original habitats, in contrast to their non-domesticated and vagrant ancestors. On the other hand, it only seems reasonable to argue that the right of an animal to carry out its natural role in the earth system should be discerned from nature itself, rather than from the roles that humans have carved out for their interests and imposed through modern systems. That is to say that although humans have changed the ability of domesticated animals in such a way as to prevent them from existing in the wild, the rights accorded to these animals should arguably be derived from their roles defined prior to human intervention.

In the context of the use of animals for recreational purposes, the use of animals as companions or domestication of animals as pets comes to light. Pets have been legally categorised as ‘animals which are reared under human care and those that cannot survive without minimal care, support and love from human masters.’[2] Their distinction from those counterparts in the wild lie in the innate dependence on humans for their survival and utility. In the context of welfare of pet animals, The Animal Welfare Board of India had drafted three sets of rules regarding pet shops[3], dog breeding[4], and aquarium fish breeding[5], which has been placed before the Animal Welfare Division of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for scrutiny. These rules  cover a broad range of mandates from providing for minimum standards  for animals in pet shops to obtaining a pet license from the local municipal authorities within 15 days from the date of purchase of animals.[6] Apart from this, much of the law regulating welfare of animals categorised as ‘pets’ has been envisioned under Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals Act, 1960. Under this section, neglecting an animal by denying her sufficient food, water, shelter and exercise or by keeping him chained/confined for long hours is punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to 3 months or both.[7] Furthermore, the provision imposes penalties on any person who, without any reasonable cause, abandons an animal in such a situation where the animal is bound to suffer pain due to starvation or thirst[8] or any owner of an animal who consciously allows an infected, diseased or disabled animal to go into any street without any permit or leave the animal to die in any street[9]. Despite having such comprehensive provisions, the lack of proper implementation has led to many instances of domestic animals being malnourished, deprived, abused and abandoned[10]

In Religious Ceremonies

Religious ceremonies and functions have also been thriving platforms for exploitation of animals in context of human leisure and entertainment. Over and above barbaric practices of animal sacrifice, tradition shows that animals such as elephants, camels and bulls have been part and parcel of traditional parades in the name of religious rituals. These practices have brought to light issues of torture, abuse and neglect of animals. To address these issues, the judiciary as well as the legislature have time and again made interventions to regulate these practices. While retaining the general prohibition on using some animals – bulls, bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and lions – as performing animals, the notification dated 7th January,2016 by MoEF makes an exception for traditional sports involving bulls, subject to the permission of the local administration and some conditions.[11] The notice provides that bulls might be kept on display or may be prepared as a performing creature, at occasions, for example, Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and bullock truck races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat under the traditions or as a piece of culture. Although organizing or participating in or inciting any animal fight is a cognizable offence.[12]

Furthermore, in 2015,  Supreme Court  also took note of not only the visible physical injuries sustained by the elephants from the injuries visible on photographs taken during the festival but also the deep mental and psychological suffering of the elephants. The Court further clarified that if one were to treat the elephants cruelly with disregard for their physical and mental wellbeing, they would be held in contempt. The ruling of the Court in this case is laudable for the fact that it placed welfare of animals on a higher pedestal.[13] In 2016, the Animal Welfare Board of India compiled a report of the treatment of elephants in April’s Thrissurpooram festival and found that there were many flagrant and repetitive violations of the Supreme Court’s order. This prompted the Kerala High Court to prohibit any elephant who is unfit to walk in the parade. The High Court also hinted at revocation of licences of those owners who use sick, injured or weak elephants for festivals.[14]

Treatment of Animals in Enclosures

Migrating circuses have long been a source of entertainment, in urban and rural India. These circuses have also arisen as avenues for cruelty towards animals as training of animals regularly involves disciplinary routines that inflict pain or harm.  Physical punishment in the form beating, whipping and shocking animals has been part of the standard training procedure for training of animals. Besides this, animals are often kept in close enclosures such as cages or crates that have had sever repercussions on their physical and psychological health. Overall, circuses give rise to animal right issues as there is no sense of accountability in terms of the source of availing these animals, procedure for training animals, breeding in captivity, physical surroundings and basic provisions for their health, safety and well-being. As such, there is a compelling need for the law to either completely ban or regulate the use of animals in circuses.

In India, common circus animals like monkeys are protected under the Wildlife (Protection)Act, 1972 and cannot be displayed or owned[15]. Bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions and bulls are prohibited from being trained and used for entertainment purposes, either in circuses or streets.[16] The only exception provided is with respect to animals that are legally registered under the procedure established by law. According the  Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, owners shall contain such particulars as to the animals and as to the general nature of the performances in which the animals are to be exhibited or for which they are to be trained as may be prescribed, and the particulars so given shall be entered in the register maintained by the prescribed authority.[17] It should also be noted that the court has the power to prohibit or restrict exhibition and training of performing animals on the grounds that the training or exhibition of any performing animal has been accompanied by unnecessary pain or suffering and should be prohibited or allowed only subject to conditions. [18]

In  the case of Balakrishnan v. Union of India[19], the Kerala High Court noted that circus animals are being forced to perform unnatural tricks, are housed in cramped cages, subjected to fear, hunger, pain, not to mention the undignified way of life they have to live, with no respite.[20] It laid down that legal rights shall not be the exclusive preserve of humans, which has to be extended beyond people thereby dismantling the thick legal wall with humans all on one side and all non-human animals on the other side. The court entered into an assessment of the status of rights of nonhuman animals that questions why even though nonhuman animals are “not homosapiens” their existence is of no less value and consideration.[21]  Furthermore, the court emphasized that the comparison between zoos and circuses sought to be made out was unrealistic and inexpedient. Whereas the sole motto of the circus was monetary gain for the owner of a circus company in the name of entertainment, the zoos on the other hand were meant for conservation and education purposes. Pursuant to this observation, the Central Government on the basis of a report of the Animal Welfare Board of India issued a notification[22] specifying that the following animals shall not be exhibited or trained as a performing animal: Bears, monkeys, tigers, anthers and lions.

Further the Performing Animals (Registration) Amendment Rules, 2018[23] made by  the powers conferred under section 38 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 expanded the  definition of the term ‘circus’ in rule 2(k) to mean a large public entertainment, typically presented in one or more very large tents or in an outdoor or indoor arena, featuring exhibitions of pageantry, feats of skill and daring, performing animals, etc.” This proposes that the definition of circus should be broadened and modified to include all aspects of a typical circus. In addition, Rule 13 prohibits the use of animals in any performances or exhibition at any circus or mobile entertainment facility.

The justification for continuation of existing zoos and foundation of new zoos lies in their ability to create self-supporting and hereditarily and behaviourally suitable populaces of creatures relating to jeopardized species in the wild, for use as genetic stock to be utilized for long haul preservation of these species and to marshal backing of the zoo guests in the national endeavours for preservation of natural life. With a view to provide the desired direction and thrust to zoos of the country, the Central Government has through amendment of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and notification of Recognition of Zoo Rules [24]prescribed minimum standards and norms for housing , upkeep and healthcare of animals housed in the zoos and set up a Central Zoo Authority to oversee the operation and capacity of the zoos in the country and to provide technical and other assistance to the zoos for achieving the prescribed standards and norms for animal housing, upkeep and healthcare. In any case, the undertaking of the Central Government to acquire a subjective improvement the administration has not yielded the ideal outcomes on account of the way that the majority of the zoo administrators despite everything keep on seeing zoos as ad hoc creature assortments kept up for open entertainment. There is little mindfulness among the overall masses about the job of zoos as communities for protection of untamed life. Teasing, feeding or disturbing the animals in a zoo and littering the zoo premises is an offence punishable by a fine of Rs. 25000 or imprisonment of up to three years or both.[25] Furthermore, the Direction or person in-charge of the zoo shall be responsible for smooth functioning of the zoo, proper housing upkeep and health care of the animals, proper visitor management and ensuring their safety. The team at the zoo should also have a curator, a veterinarian, a biologist and an education officer.

Trophy Killing

Recreational Hunting has a heritage in India and has been a lavishly recorded custom for many years. In any case, this heritage has come at an exceptionally, overwhelming cost. The movement has not only posed great danger to the lives of the wildlife but has also caused huge scope for the annihilation of wild life assets, including elimination of numerous endangered species. Post-Independence, hunting was prohibited by the legislature under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, with the exception of determined purposes, for example, for self-preservation, to forestall crop harm, to counter vermin species and for logical or instructive reasons. This was a historic move as for the first time in the country, there was an express prohibition on such activities. Chasing for sport is denied was also disallowed. However, universal exchange colourful species has been permitted according to the arrangements of Foreign exchange (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992, and the EXIM (export import) strategy of India.[26]

Albeit a ton of detailed and explicit wildlife and animal protection laws have been passed in India, they are often not appropriately executed. It is so in light of the fact that concerned stakeholders and NGOs don’t regularly stress on taking the legitimate pathway to achieve results. Simultaneously, understanding that the enactment that we, as of now, have in India isn’t adequately solid and sensible in order to roll out to gain extraordinary improvement. The general anti- cruelty parts in Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960[27] can be made significantly progressively and compelling by expanding the discipline and making more stringent the provisions for punishment and fine so as to create a deterrent effect on potential violators.


The human-animal interrelationship in context of leisure, sport, entertainment or any other recreational activity poses several concerns for the health and welfare of the animal kingdom. Instances from the past and possibly in the present ironically demonstrate that animals have indeed been a major source of entertainment for humans, but sadly to their own detriment. Mistreatment, abuse, exploitation and neglect of animals are undoubtedly prevalent in recreational activities involving their participation or association.  As such, the regulation of such activities so as to avoid animal harm and promote animal welfare is the need of the hour. The existing legal regime governing animal rights appears to be rather compact and comprehensive in its scope. From a peripheral observation of the laws in place, it can be stated that granting animals a legal standing through the vesting of rights will do more than just lend them a voice that status quo allows. It will ensure that there is justice to animals who are victims of cruelty and put an end to the minimal punishments that simply pay lip service in the guise of welfare. This being said, there is much scope for a refined set of policies that specifically address individual issues that arise with regard to the use of animals in recreational activities. While on paper, the law is rather robust, the shortcoming has been increasingly evident from the aspect of implementation and enforcement. The laws should therefore consolidate and made comprehensive adding on provisions regarding the decentralisation of authority, imposition of stringent fines, ensuring a close eye on licensing by the appropriate authorities and other procedural requirements. In addition to this, advocacy for the development and implementation of national and international standards for the management of animals should be promoted vehemently.

The systemic and methodological exploitation of animals has witnessed heightened proliferation across the world, especially in activities that are forms of human recreation. A way forward from these abusive and exploitative ways of humans is only possible if there is a shift in the perception of animal wellbeing as the end themselves as opposed to being a means to human ends. The use of animals for recreational purposes that include, but are not limited to, domestication as pets, races, rodeos, circuses, zoos and hunting, when done with a conscious effort to ensure their well-being proves to be the most efficient and beneficial. This solution calls for coordinated efforts of multiple stakeholders as the depletion of even one species due to negligence or negative actions of humans will prove to be detrimental to the fragile ecosystem. A suitable recommendation regarding the use animals for entertainment or recreation is to provide appropriate veterinary care by suitably equipped veterinarians. Animals, by virtue of their physical anatomy or infirmity and emotional instability should not be compelled or forced to partake in any activity that will compromise their welfare. Furthermore, the rampant use of performance enhancing or beautification drugs for the purpose of competing should be curtailed at the least or prohibited at the best. On the contrary, utilising natural behaviours and positive reinforcement may be promoted through training exercises, keeping in mind the confinement measures, physical exercise and natural behaviour. Activities that portray force and torture of animals should be discouraged, so that the public is not mislead and that activities inflicting harm are not normalised in public perception. In context of zoos and other enclosure, the law should take into consideration the natural habitat of the animals concerned and after an appropriate scientific study must specify for appropriate spatial and surrounding requirements so as to mirror the natural habitat of animals. Over and above this, authorities must take necessary measures to strive for rehabilitation of these animals in the wild after conducting sufficient tests of fitness and ensuring their capability of survival.



[1] It is the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to have compassion for all living creatures, under Article 51A(g) of the Indian constitution

[2] Draft Pet Shop Rules, 2010, Rule 2(1).

[3] Pet Shop Rules, 2010

[4] Dog Breeding, Marketing and Sale Rules, 2010

[5] Aquarium Fish Breeding and Marketing Rules

[6] A pet shop shall be established in a sound and safe building or structure away from sound, dust or air pollution. Ventilation, light and water shall be adequate to the need of the species being lodged and sold therein. The shop shall possess enough space and proper infrastructure for comfortably accommodating the pet or any other animals being retained in the shop for the time being. Id.

[7] Section 11(1)(h), The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960

[8] Section 11(1)(i), The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960

[9] Section 11(1)(j), The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960

[10] Humane Society International (India), 15 Animal Rights in India That You Probably Don’t Know About. But You Should. The Better India (2016), (last visited Jul 23, 2020).

[11] G.S.R. 13(E) 7 January, 2016 specifies that bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions and bulls shall not be exhibited or trained as performing animal, with effect from the date of publication of this notification. Section 22, Prevention of Cruelty Act,1960 empowers the Central Government to specify by notification in the official gazette any animal which shall not be exhibited or trained as a performing animal.

[12] Section 11(1)(m)(ii) and Section 11(1)(n), PCA Act, 1960.

[13] Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre and Ors. v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. (2016) 1 SCC 716.


[15] Section 38I, The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972

[16] Section 22(ii), The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960

[17] Section 23 (2), The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960

[18] Section 24, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960

[19] WP 155/1999, Kerala High Court, dated June 6, 2000 .

[20] ibid para 13

[21] ibid

[22] Under sub clause (ii) of Sec.22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 Notification dated 2-3-1991 had banned the training and exhibition of five animals, viz. Bars, monkeys, tigers, panthers in the circus.

[23] REGD. NO. D. L.-33004/99

[24] Clauses (f) and (g) of sub section (1) of section 63 of wildlife protection act, 1972 made Recognition of Zoo Rules 2009 (Gazette of India no. 643, dated 10 November 2009)

[25] Section 38J, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

[26] AK Saxena, recreational- hunting-should-india-allow-trade-of-wildlife-trophies ( June. 7, 2016),–54241.

[27] The Prevention of Cruelty To Animals Act, 1960


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