Controversy over live animals at QMU’s Yule Ball

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Alastair Thomas
Editor

Glasgow University’s Queen Margaret Union (QMU) has been criticised for its plans to feature live animals at its Yule Ball on Friday 18th December. The Union’s Yule Ball Facebook page advertises the opportunity for partying students to have their photo taken alongside “a real live owl” and a “12 foot python” at the door of the Harry Potter-themed event.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) released a statement criticising the Union’s plans to have feature animals at its Christmas ball, saying:

“Wild animals aren’t party accessories. This Friday, Glasgow University’s Yule Ball will feature a live owl and python. The loud music, bright lights and crowds of drinking students will add up to a terrifying experience for these sensitive animals”.

The Union’s Yule Ball is one of two competing events on Friday, with the Glasgow University Union (GUU) hosting its 107th Daft Friday on the same evening.

In an open letter to the Union, Eva Milne, a Glasgow University student, wrote, “It is cruel and unnecessary to expose these creatures to hundreds of loud, drunk students, regardless of how experienced you believe their handlers to be”.

David Scott, a graduate of the University, said: “I would be deeply disappointed to see such actions associated with the University or the QMU. While many would argue that, in the grand scheme of things, live animals at an early point in the night is no big deal, it’s equally valid to question how necessary it is for the evening as a whole. Even if the QMU is able to effectively restrict the event to sober students alone, it’s still a very stressful environment to place two live animals in for the purposes of a mere photo opportunity. Looking at the Facebook event now, it’s pretty clear there are many other people who are similarly opposed – can the event not simply proceed without the animals?”.

Dr Philippa Lovatt, an alumna of the University, added: “There is absolutely no need for this cruelty”.

pythonandowl

The QMU is using an owl and a snake as part of its Harry Potter-themed night

The Glasgow Guardian approached the QMU’s president, Max Sefton, for comments regarding the Union’s plans to use live animals during its party. Sefton responded with a statement, which reads:

“We appreciate that a few students have concerns about this aspect of the night and recognise that some people do not believe that animals should be used in an entertainment context regardless of whether they are kept safe and secure. However there are also many students who are interested in this opportunity; from those who attend the student events committee to plan events to the students who have excitedly purchased pre-sale tickets and we are working with a highly experienced company to deliver this event in a safe and informative manner. Nevertheless, in light of the issues that you raise we are assessing the situation and double checking all of our procedures for the evening to ensure there is no distress to the animals and I will be meeting with the events manager and the professional handlers involved to raise these concerns with them.

“Party Animals Perth assure us that they have run similar events on many occasions and we have laid out a clear set of rules for ensuring the animals have a good time too, such as regular breaks.”

When asked how he guarantees the animals’ safety during the event, Sefton responded by saying: “There seems to be a certain amount of misinformation in circulation about what this involves that I am happy to put to rest. The animals are going to be in a marquee away from the main venue. Animals will be supported by experienced handlers at all times. They are not going to be exposed to sound and lights that could be disturbing. Students under the influence of alcohol will not be allowed in to see the animals. Students will be able to take a picture with the owl but not pet it. We hope that this will be enjoyable and informative to all.”

When asked if the QMU would consider cancelling the animal handling if backlash against the Union’s event grows, Sefton did not answer.

The University’s Senate has announced that it is handling the allegations under its ‘Stage 1’ complaints procedure, where it will be passing on any complaints to the QMU.

UPDATE: 17/12/15
The QMU have announced that they will be cancelling the owl and python set to feature at the ball. The Union released a statement, saying: “The QMU has always been a safe-haven for students with a wide mixture of views and opinions – political, social and ethical, and we never wish to offend or upset any of our members or make them feel unheard…

“[A]nd while (at the request of parts of our membership) you will not be able to get your photo taken with a live owl or snake, there will still be a photo-opportunity with the QMU’s very own cuddly-toy Hedwig and Nagini!”