Posted on May 19 2016
It is a dream of many people to one day run away and join the circus. The same can’t be said for the circus animals. It may not be easy to look at an animal and tell if it is enjoying their acts or not. Colorful pageantry disguises the fact that circus animals are captives who undergo involuntary training—under threat of punishment—to perform uncomfortable, confusing, hard and sometimes painful acts.
If the public knew about the brutality most of these animals went through, they wouldn’t support the circus. If you had attended circus performances in the past, you may have noticed that they travel constantly and to different countries. These animals are exposed to unacceptable travel conditions and poor treatment. You can’t imagine what happens to them when they “retire” and can no longer do tricks.
The old animals that are too old for the circus ring can seldom hope for a proper sendoff. There is no circus that can afford feeding and supporting a “useless” animal. They are either put down or sold. If sold, they are delivered to an unknown fate and a place they are not familiar with. Would it be considered animal cruelty to have wild animals in the circus? Here is what you need to know.
A life away from home
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus brags that it travels 30,000 miles for 11 months nonstop to entertain America. They perform in more than 140 cities of North America. With city-to-city movements, animals are constantly exposed to harsh weather conditions of different cities. And that’s not all. They may also lack basic necessities like food, water and veterinary care during these times.
The animals, a number of whom are naturally energetic, are forced to live in a limited space, devote most of their time in cramped cages and trailers. These are small rooms that only allow them to stand and turn around. The only time that they get enough room to move is when they are performing. Elephants and lions alike are kept in leg shackles, which means they can only take one or two steps away. The federal Animal Welfare Act is deliberately ignored for personal gain.
Baboons, chimpanzees and other primates who live in the wild enjoy close-knit communities and travel together in camps for miles across savannahs, forests and hills. But this is not the case with apes in the circus.
Primates are highly intelligent, caring and social animals who suffer when denied companionship. Like most animals used to entertain a bigger audience in the circus, apes do not perform unless they are threatened and pushed to do tricks. It is unfortunate that a number of them are beaten and imposed to solitary confinement if they fail to perform. Famous videos like “Baboon Lagoon” show you what primates go through. Before any animal can do a trick, it will undergo months of serious training that includes punishment and intimidation.
Many believe the animals are set free into the wild during off-seasons, but they are wrong. All of the performing animals are normally housed in barn stalls or travelling crates. Others are kept in trucks. These are interminable confinement that pose physical and psychological damage on animals. Animals will show unnatural forms of behavior including repeated head-bobbing, pacing and swaying.
There are tricks performed that always wow most circus audiences. But what you don’t know is that the natural physical nature of most animals doesn’t allow them to do these tricks. Intimidation is always the driving factor. For instance, when a bear balances on a ball, an ape rides a motorcycle or when an elephant stands on two legs, it is behaviorally unnatural and physically uncomfortable. They wouldn’t do that in a normal circumstance unless they knew they would be punished if they fail.
The muzzles, whips, electric prods, tight collars, bull hooks and other tools used in the circus during different acts is a clear evidence that animals are threatened to perform or be punished. So before you clap for the trainer and animals that perform, think of what happens behind closed curtains.
Sometimes these intelligent captives rebel out of pressure of constant abuse. Those that can’t take the pressure anymore make their feelings abundantly clear and in front of a crowd. Flora is one such elephant that has always been pushed to do tricks. This elephant was later on moved to the Miami Zoo where it attacked and severally injured a zookeeper before visitors.
On several occasions, elephants have attacked trainers during performances. This is a way of telling the circus trainers that these conditions and treatment is unnatural. Since we don’t seem to understand their language, these animals must resort to violence to make their point known.
What you can do
There is no doubt that circuses are now finding it hard to set up their tents and big tops. This is attributed to the fact that more people are now becoming aware of the cruelty used in pushing animals to perform. The government is also taking part in making sure animals rights are respected. Animals in entertainment has already been restricted or banned in a number of cities across America and different countries.
Countries that have banned the use of animals in circuses include Israel, Peru, Sweden, Bolivia and Greece. Britain has also prohibited using wild animals in travelling circuses.
Circuses without animals
Cirque du Soleil is one of the biggest and most successful circuses that have attracted audiences from all over the world. They accomplished all of this without animals. They demonstrated that an audience would still flock to see trapeze artists, acrobats and tightrope walkers without necessarily having any animal acts. It is clear that a circus can still be lively and entertaining without its iconic animals.
There are ways you can take your entire family to see animal-free circuses and still have a memorable time. People for the Ethical Treatment of animals (PETA) is one of a number of campaigns in America and the world at large that have provided the public with literature to pass out to patrons if a circus that uses animals come to town.