How a petting zoo at a music festival became about something else entirely.

Groovin’ the Moo is a three weekend music festival held at six locations around Australia. But during its first weekend, which kicked off in Wayville, South Australia on Friday 28 April, a number of attendees were furious to find that the scheduled petting zoo would not go ahead.

A change.org petition launched last week claimed the music festival was “not an appropriate environment for a petting zoo,” and argued “animals should not be forcibly subjected to loud music, drunk people and large crowds”.

Jaymie Hammond, who started the campaign, said a petting zoo was “completely unethical and unnecessary,” and to date, 2,962 people have signed to agree with her.

On 26 April, Groovin’ the Moo announced on Facebook they had cancelled the petting zoo, explaining to their Wayville guests that “while we had the best of intentions, we understand your concerns”.

Image via Facebook.

Almost 500 people commented to respond to the post. While many acknowledged the decision was "probably best for the animals," countless others criticised "stupid vegans," and wrote, "I'm no longer going," and "people are sooks".

But the media's response was even more emotionally charged. An article in the Adelaide Advertiser asked, "have you ever met such an insufferable category of people as vegans?" and continued, "see, they profess to be such loving, careful, gentle souls... but some of the most judgmental prigs I’ve ever met have been vegans".

Because anecdotal evidence is the best type of evidence.

My problem with this whole debate is one that seems to arise every time animal rights issues are raised. Vegans, according to a large section of society, are smug and annoying, and therefore their opinions are absurd. To their critics, vegans think they're 'morally superior' and look down on the rest of us. They're bent on their agenda and committed to imposing it on everyone else.

Image via Facebook.

It doesn't matter what vegans are saying - the fact that they're the ones saying it is enough to make people scoff.

"Animals being petted and fawned over for six hours doesn’t really strike me as animal abuse, but never mind," wrote Caleb Bond in the Advertiser. 

I don't think the concern was about animals being shown too much affection.

Most of us have been to petting zoos and surely, when we're really honest with ourselves, we can't confidently say that all people can be trusted to treat animals with respect. At the Easter Show it's young children who, through no fault of their own, don't understand what they can and can't do. They pull tails and make loud noises. They tease animals with food. They cry when they get scared, which likely startles the animals. The high volume of people leaves little room for the animals to move around freely, and the indoor pen is a stark contrast to the natural environment of pigs, goats, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits and lambs.

Image via iStock.

At a music festival, I would hazard a guess that people's behaviour towards animals would be eerily similar to that of children. With significant drug and alcohol use, people aren't in the frame of mind to be respectful of small animals. Intoxicated people become louder, less coordinated, more compulsive, and more aggressive.

Even in a completely controlled environment, there are ethical issues with the idea of a petting zoo. But inside a music festival? Having concerns isn't about "moral policing" or being "judgmental" or, as Bond writes, "proof these miserable sods [vegans] ruin everything they touch" - it's human.

There's unmistakable hostility towards vegans and their beliefs. Maybe it's because the vegans we tend to see in pop culture are righteous, patronising and critical. When we think of 'vegans' we think of people like Freelee the Banana Girl - who says meat eaters "don't deserve to live," and that "chemo kills". Extreme personalities like hers encourage people to erroneously associate concern for animals with arrogance and pseudoscience, but that's not the case.

Many concerns raised by the vegan community are valid, and come from a place of wanting to ensure animals are respected and cared for.

Letting a distaste for 'vegans' as a group inform our automatic attitude towards issues of animal welfare is not only logically flawed, but deeply irresponsible.

It's crucial we're able to separate ethical questions from the people who raise them, and consider them on their own merit. Otherwise we're not being driven by what's right and wrong at all.