Since its debut early this summer, a television program broadcast on Telecinco that shows people performing tricks with their pets has come under fire from Spain’s leading animal rights groups.
Activists charge that many of the animals used on the talent show ¡Vaya Fauna!, which airs on Wednesday nights, are wild and undomesticated, and often trained through punishment methods.
Liberación Animal (Animal Liberation), a non-profit rights group, has collected more than 160,000 signatures asking Telecinco to cancel the program. A petition on Change.org which also demanded the show's cancellation gathered over 38,000 signatures.
My conscience is clear over our work, done with love and respect for the animals. I hope you will enjoy it”
Christian Gálvez, host of ¡Vaya Fauna!
Adding to the controversy was Frank Cuesta, a wildlife expert whose exploits with dangerous animals in their environment are featured in his weekly program Frank de la Jungla, broadcast on the Cuatro network.
On July 3, Cuesta uploaded a video on his Facebook page addressing the host of ¡Vaya Fauna! Christián Gálvez and the program’s producers. In it, he accused them of being “accomplices to a very painful situation for the animals.”
Saying that the participants were “breaking down” the animals, Cuesta explained that bears, tigers and elephants shown on the program can only learn such tricks from being “hit with a stick, whipped, or through fear.”
Gálvez, who is also the host of the popular word gameshow Pasapalabra, also broadcast on Telecinco, has not responded to Cuesta’s video.
But before ¡Vaya Fauna! went on the air, Gálvez wrote on his Twitter account: “My conscience is clear over our work, done with love and respect for the animals. I hope you will enjoy it.”
The controversy was fueled even further by singer Soraya Arnelas, who serves on the panel of judges on ¡Vaya Fauna!
“I will not watch a video showing me images that I am already familiar with," she responded to Cuesta on Twitter. "You are taking advantage of others for your own cause. All of us on the program have adopted abandoned animals and we condemn animal abuse.”
Cuesta in turn accused Arnelas of trying to manipulate his video.
It is always difficult when you make a program with kids or animals, and we knew that”
Soraya Arnelas, judge on ¡Vaya Fauna!
“I have no battle with the network or anyone in particular. I am fighting to try to educate younger generations and above all, I'm trying to help the animals,” he wrote.
On Tuesday, Arnelas, who became famous through the song competition program Operación Triunfo, said on state broadcaster TVE that everyone knew beforehand that ¡Vaya Fauna! would create controversy.
“It is always difficult when you make a program with kids or animals, and we knew that. But the program is still there, and we will continue doing our great work as long as there is no mistreatment of animals,” she said.
The fourth instalment of ¡Vaya Fauna! will be broadcast on Wednesday, Telecinco has confirmed.
The rise in talent shows
Television programming drastically changes during the summer months in Spain. Dramatic series end their seasons while other shows are off the air during the long vacation period.
This summer, the networks have been filling the gaps with different talent shows. Besides ¡Vaya Fauna!,where animals are the performers, TVE has also started its own talent contest with Insuperables, which is shown on Monday nights.
The program brings together an array of amateur performers – from magicians to contortionists – competing against one another for a grand prize of €30,000.
The panel of judges is made up of comedian and film producer Santiago Segura and the singers Ana Milán and Pitingo.
"In Insuperables, we are looking for the best performer regardless of his or her specialties," said Carolina Cerezuela, the show's host.
Popular game show host Carlos Sobera will soon be presenting a new program on LaSexta ¡Eso lo hago yo! – the Spanish version of I Can Do That — in which singers and actors will have to compete in other disciplines before a panel of celebrity judges.
English version by Martin Delfín