Hopefully most of you have watched the video in the post titled “The Pain You Cannot See”. If you haven’t, I urge you to do so. As painful as viewing the cruelty displayed in the video might be, it is necessary to truly understand why circuses should no longer be allowed to have animal acts.
History of the Circus
Animal acts began in the 1800s when exotic animals were integrated into traveling shows to give their shows an educational spin. As the crowds grew after the addition of the animals which could rarely be seen anywhere else, animal involvement also grew. By the 1980s, people started to become aware of the mistreatment of performing animals and the animal rights movement to discourage the use of performing animals began.
Why should we care?
Behind the curtains of the arena, the animals endure harsh physical and mental abuse. After being savagely taken from their mothers immediately after birth, chains and ropes are attached to the baby elephant’s legs to begin the process of “breaking”. During the breaking process, the animals are forced into positions against their will, and beaten with electric prods and bull-hooks. A bull-hook is a beastly black stick with a sharp metal claw at the end, designed for piercing the flesh of those who dare to cross its handler. The animals are struck throughout their entire lives, their handlers being sure to strike them in the most sensitive areas including: the skin around the eyes and mouth, the area behind the knees, and the area behind the ears. These animals are not performing because they want to or because they were designed to work. These animals are performing out of fear of what will happen when they don’t.
As these animals journey to the Big Top, they are housed in enclosures far too small that inhibit their ability to express natural behaviors. This leads to physical and mental frustration which can be seen as an elephant sways unnaturally back and forth, a neurotic habit that developed from being confined for so long. Tigers and big cats can be seen pacing incessantly, as they go stir-crazy from being unable to hunt, forage, and play. Displacement behaviors such as self mutilation and aggression can be seen in animals who have been held in captivity for long periods of time.
Are there bans and regulations in place to protect these animals?
Circus animals are currently protected under the Animal Welfare Act which ensures that all of an animal’s basic needs are met including:
- Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
- Freedom to express normal behaviors
- Freedom from fear and distress
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
(The problem is we do not have sufficient personnel to ensure that the animals’ needs are being met during training and travel.)
The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act being debated by congress aims to amend the Animal Welfare Act to restrict the use of exotic and wild animals in traveling circuses and exhibitions. Local bans have already been put in place in Massachusetts by Quincy, Revere, Weymouth, Braintree, Provincetown, Plymouth, and Somerville. For more information on local bans in your area view this link.
What is the solution?
For the time being, we need to enforce existing laws and fund sufficient personnel to inspect and ensure that training is humane. Tighter regulations need to replace existing regulations and there needs to be steeper fines for violating the laws in place.
Funding should be put in place for sanctuaries as we gradually phase out animal use in circuses, while educational programs should be implemented so that existing circuses do not need to shut down completely, all they will be required to do is switch to human-only performers and eliminate their animal acts entirely.
Are any circuses making the switch?
Ringing Brothers and Barnum and Bailey have promised to eliminate the use of elephants from all of their acts by the year 2018, stating that they will not acquire any new elephants and that they will only use their healthiest animals to perform until 2018. To read more about the their decision to phase out elephants view this link: http://nyti.ms/1B78x7T
What can we do to help circus animals?
Write to congress and urge them to pass the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act!
Only visit animal-free circuses and urge your friends and family to do the same.
Where can we find a circus free of animal acts?
Here is a list of animal-free circuses. Cirque du Soleil is also a great option, although there has been some unrest as fans debate the use of burmese pythons in some of their shows.