The circus has drawn attention for many centuries, as back as ancient Rome times. Balloons, clowns, popcorn, cotton candy, funny music, appealing colors and beautiful wild animals; children love it and are thrilled to attend it and parents are unaware of the horror behind it. The truth of the “coulisse” of the circus industry is a greatly sad story. Tortured in the name of entertainment, animals spend a lifetime of misery, pain, fear, frustration and physiological distress.
The circus industry claims that it uses the reward method, or “positive reinforcement”, to train the animals. But the truth is that most, if not all, circus trainings are unmonitored and the trainers adopt the fastest way of training: fear and pain. In order to learn a specific trick, circus animals are repeatedly beaten, shocked and whipped using bullhooks, electric prods and other instruments by the instructors. For more efficiency, they usually aim the most sensitive parts of the face and body.
PETA has done a very important investigation on this issue. They have undercover footage of the backstage of Carson & Barnes Circus and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus which shows clearly how it is really done. The animals are not rewarded by food or any other means, but are beaten and inflicted with pain and fear in order to obey.
Circus animals, which are instinctively vigorous, are kept chained or caged. The only times they are released are during trainings and performances. The most important grouping among elephants is the “family unit”. They live together as long as a lifetime. But baby elephant are ripped away from their mothers and immediately put under severe training. They naturally walk around 50 miles per day, but in circuses, they are chained throughout their lives. Tigers are originally scared from fire, but trainers force them to jump through flaming hoops during performances and training, and the rest of the time, they are put in so small cages that they cannot even turn around. Bears who enjoy being solitary and fishing are put in cages barely their sizes. Primates live their lives in group, valuing gatherings the most. But instead, they are separated and put into solitary cages. The vast territory that big cats naturally occupy is restricted to small cages.
Circus companies usually travel a lot to perform in as many places as possible and make as much profit as they can, without taking into consideration the wellbeing of the animals. Elephants, tigers, lions, bears, monkeys and other animals are kept locked in a trail or a truck sometimes for many days in a raw. They sleep, eat and defecate in the same place, which generates frustration and diseases. A lot of times, the travelling takes place in extreme weather condition -cold or hot- and the animals are deprived from basic needs such as water and veterinary care. Many didn’t make it through.
Inflicted with all this suffering, animals are driven to unbearable physical and psychological states. Many of them show stereotypical behavior -licking a particular spot of the fence, moving in circle in cages, swinging head or leg from one side to the other, etc- due to mental oppression, as you can see in the video above. In other cases, they tend to rise against this unfair situation by trying to escape or fighting back the trainers, thus putting themselves, their trainer and the audience in danger. Many cases of death and severe injuries were recorded, and in most cases it ends up with the death of the animal itself by the interference of the police.
The following video is about the escape of a 20 year old female elephant from the circus in Hawaii in 1994. She killed her trainer and injured others. It contains some disturbing images, so if you are a sensitive viewer, skip it. It’s in Italian, but words are not needed to describe the situation.
Beside the overwhelming and painful feelings imposed to the animals, the circus has no educational value what so ever. In fact it distorts the reality by showing animals executing unnatural and ridiculous tricks. These magnificent creatures are to be in the wild, performing their instinctive and natural behaviors instead of riding bicycles, balancing on balls, jumping into flaming hoops or other mischievous acts that are totally irrational to them. Consequently, when schools and parents take children to circuses, they are misleading them and showing them a reality created by the human selfishness and eagerness to entertainment (the audience) and profit (the circus industry). There are many ways to educate our children on the life of animals; books, DVD’s and the internet are a good sources of information concerning wildlife. They show animals in their natural habitats and take a close look at their instinctive behaviors.
Circuses do not have to include animals. There are alternatives. Sweeden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland, Singapore, Switzerland, and Denmark have already banned the use of animals in their circuses. We should all follow their steps. Circus Garden, Circus Oz, Cirque du Soleil, Hiccup Circus, Circus Ethiopia and many more are all animal-free circuses that provide the audience with splendid shows, without having to put animals under suffering and distress.
What is happening is unacceptable. It shows the abuse of human power over helpless animals for the only absurd reason of entertainment. But you can make moves to stop this exploitation. When a circus that includes animals comes to your town or city, gather as much people as you can and make your voice heard. Attract the media if you can and let those who are unaware of the truth look it in the face and the circus understand that it is not welcome. When people you know want to take their children to the circus, expose them to the true side of the circus industry. You can search in the net for more information about circus animal abuse. You will be surprised and probably disturbed by the facts and images you will discover. Finally, you can support brave activists that are fighting against animal abuse in circuses by donating, volunteering or simply acknowledging their work and spreading the word. We must be active upon this issue. Animals cannot speak for themselves and unless we do something about it, they will keep on being unwillingly dragged into a life of pain and misery.