For many kids and adults, alike, the idea of going to the circus conjures up feelings of excitement with the opportunity to see thrilling performers on the flying trapeze and high wire, silly clowns on miniature bicycles, and the many different kinds of animals performing acts to entertain the audience. Many of these circuses which use wild animals such as elephants, lions, tigers, chimpanzees, and bears appear to be happy, fun places. But, for the animals involved, their story is quite different. Sadly, these animals lead a most unnatural existence, often with a poor quality of life and little kindness.
I can’t imagine travelling almost every week of the year, but that is just what animals in the circus have to do to get to their next performance. They are often chained in small quarters on dark trains or trailer-trucks, without proper air flow and temperature, compromising their health and contentment. Many of these animals are exposed to places and climates which are very different, or even extreme, from their natural environments. When they arrive at their destination, they are often chained and confined to hard, grassless surfaces or metal cages for most of their day, forced to endure heat or cold. This isn’t how we should care for animals.
Animals are sentient creatures, meaning they have feelings like you and me. They can feel lonely, sad, bored, and angry when they have limited interaction with other animals of their own kind. Can you imagine not having any family or friends? Well, for captive animals in the circus, this lack of socialization often results in stress and illness, and they do not live as long as they would in the wild. Young animals are often separated from their mothers and older ones from their important family structures. This is very traumatic and dangerous for these sensitive animals. Unlike companion animals who are happy and content to live with people and other animals, wild animals have very specific needs that can not be substituted or recreated in captivity. Elephants, for example, are quite intelligent and need to be with their mothers for years, to learn how to survive and properly interact with the larger herd. When they lose this ability to socialize properly, they become a danger to themselves as well as to other animals and people.
Wild animals require lots of training to perform in circuses. In nature, we don’t see tigers jumping through rings of fire, chimpanzees dressed in clothing, or bears dancing on two feet. Teaching animals to act unnaturally is disrespectful and cruel. In many instances, trainers use repeated physical and psychological violence to gain control over the animals. For example, bullhooks, which are wooden or metal poles with a curved, sharp hook on the end, are used to inflict pain in sensitive areas of elephants in an attempt to get them to obey trainer commands. This is wrong! And to make matters worse, there are few laws protecting animals in the circus and almost little to no enforcement.
Using animals for the sole purpose of entertaining people is unfair and unnecessary, but there is much we can all do to help end this cruel and inhumane treatment.
Three things you can do to help:
1. Do not attend circuses featuring wild animals. Explaining your reasons to family and friends will help educate them, too. There are circuses that do not use animals, but instead rely on people entertaining people (see below). Let’s try to keep wild animals in the wild! Visit a wildlife sanctuary where animals are protected and are living a more natural existence.
2. READ about the animals used in circuses. Learning about the biology and natural behavior of the different animals will allow you to speak and write more intelligently and effectively. Spread the wealth of knowledge you gain with others. Remember, sometimes change happens one person at a time!
3. Write letters to newspapers and TV stations explaining what is happening at circuses. If there is a circus coming to town, ask local reporters if they will write an article or give coverage to help educate the public on the poor treatment of animals used in circuses. Also, write to your elected officials politely requesting legislation to protect animals used in circuses from cruelty and ultimately, banning circuses from using wild animal acts.
Related links and articles:
For a list of circuses which do not use animals:
Check out books at your local library, including:
Saving Lily by Peg Kehret