Programs & Resources

Circus Animal Welfare

Watch this video of circus cruelty in Lanesboro, MA in June, 2011

Read recent articles, "The Cruelest Show on Earth" and "Ringling Brothers Agree To USDA Fine For Allegedly Violating Animal Welfare Act".

Read about circuses that do not use exotic animals

Download MSPCA's circus flier here.

The MSPCA is opposed to wild animals in circuses and traveling wild animal acts because of the suffering they cause to the animals and because of the false picture given of the animals displayed. The municipalities of Quincy, Revere, Braintree, Weymouth, Provincetown, and Somerville, MA have all passed ordinances prohibiting circuses within their boundaries.

The inherent cruelty of traveling almost every week a year, forced separation of herds and babies, being chained while not performing, restrictive caging, and coercive training methods are just a few of the reasons why the MSPCA opposes the use of wild animals in circuses.

Why are we concerned about wild animals in circuses?
Few legal protections exist for animals who are displayed in circuses. On the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires that minimum standards of care and treatment be provided to warm-blooded animals traveling with circuses. However, violations of the AWA are an everyday occurrence in circuses.

Animals in circuses spend up to  11 months of the year traveling. For thousands of hours, over long distances, they may be chained, transported in vehicles that lack climate control, and forced to stand or lie in their own waste.

Performing animals such as elephants, lions, and tigers endure years of physical and psychological suffering in traveling acts. The tricks that animals are forced to perform - night after night - are frightening, unnatural, and even painful. Standard circus industry practice is to use bullhooks and other objects to poke, prod, strike, shock, and hit animals in order to "train" them — all for a few moments of human amusement.

Sometimes the animals respond aggressively to this abuse, injuring their handlers, trainers, and even the public.  They occasionally escape from their train cars or their temporary enclosures, risking potentially fatal traffic accidents and injuries to themselves and others.  For a list of circus animal incidents, see Born Free USA's website. There has not yet been a recorded incident in Massachusetts, but there is no reason it couldn’t happen here.  Undoubtedly, the problems that lead to these incidents happen everywhere.  

Circuses using animals often boast that they are working to conserve endangered species in the wild and are educating the public about these animals. There is far more money to be made in breeding endangered animals for public display and performance than in addressing the real issues, such as habitat degradation, that threaten wild populations. Endangered animals born in circus "conservation" programs have never been released into the wild.

How You Can Help
Below are five ways in which you can help stop the suffering of wild animals in circuses.

1) Do not attend circuses that feature wild animals or participate in wild animal "rides". Instead choose animal-free circuses or visit animal sanctuaries.  Find a list here. Learn more about elephant rides and displays.

2) Learn more about animal protection, animal habitats and circuses by visiting the following organizations' websites:  Born Free USA, The Elephant SanctuaryPerforming Animal Welfare SocietyThe Humane Society of the United States.

3) Spread the word. Write letters to the editors of your local newspapers.  Educate your relatives, friends, co-workers and local businesses about your research. Encourage them to take a stand against circuses.  Ask your friends to visit this webpage and take action, too!  Download a flier.

4) Support legislation to ban the use of the bullhook and chains for elephants who are part of circuses and traveling animal acts in Massachusetts.   Visit our webpage for more information. 
 
5) Support Local Bans. You can help stop circuses that feature wild animals from coming to your town by working to pass a local ordinance which restricts wild animal acts. In Massachusetts, Quincy, Revere, Braintree, Weymouth, Provincetown, Somerville (read the ordinance ), and most recently Plymouth have all passed ordinances prohibiting circuses within their boundaries.  Contact us at advocacy@mspca.org to find out how or download our Local Action Kit and Circus Issues and Ordinances.