Ah the circus, a place for fun and games, where bears wear cute tutus and tigers jump through hoops, the smell of popcorn filling your nostrils and the stickiness of candy floss on your fingers. It brings us all back to our childhood filled with laughter and clowns, complete ignorance of what happens behind the scenes and the question of how wild animals become showmen. The truth is, most circus animals are treated poorly; beaten, starved, and kidnapped. They sit in tiny cages travelling from place to place for our entertainment. Have we ever thought about what the once big and mighty beasts feel when they are dressed in silly costumes and forced to perform tricks that are dangerous and downright unnecessary? They do not perform because they enjoy it, it’s because they are forced to. Why can’t they just stop and not perform then? That is a very simple answer, they are afraid. Afraid of what will happen if they do not perform.
Animals are trained and punished with whips, muzzles, tight collars, electric prods and metal rods. There are multiple videos and photographs showing animals being beaten and abused in cruel ways. Those fake smiles and cheers from the circus trainers and handlers are all for show, to trick you into thinking that the animals enjoy performing and that they are loved. Tigers and lions have a natural fear of fire, but due to the desires of their circus trainers, they are forced to jump through hoops which have resulted in many animals being injured. These mind tricks are precautions circus trainers take in order to avoid being reported, since the only real way a circus can get punished for mistreating their animals is by being reported by the public, and governments do not monitor what happens behind closed curtains.
“Circus animals often have a lot of pent up anger and frustration from years of abuse. There have been multiple cases worldwide were circus animals have escaped and attacked people and their surroundings. The animals that go crazy are not sedated and given care, instead, they are killed.”
While travelling the circus, owners often keep animals in trailers or trucks. Big cats are crammed into tiny, dirty cages and elephants are chained down. Circuses travel all year round in various weather conditions meaning the animals are often exposed to the elements, forced to suffer through hours and days of travel without getting the chance to move around. Circus animals often have a lot of pent up anger and frustration from years of abuse. There have been multiple cases worldwide were circus animals have escaped and attacked people and their surroundings. The animals that go crazy are not sedated and given care, instead, they are killed. For example, take the 2014 Moolah Shrine Circus show in Missouri. During the performance, three elephants escaped from their handlers in the children area after being put under stress from the noise. They were loose for 45 minutes which resulted in multiple damaged vehicles. This was not the first time an elephant got loose, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Thankfully there have been circus bans in place in multiple cities and countries around the world which restrict the use of animals for entertainment. The Animal Welfare Act states that circus animals have the right to be protected and treated humanely, so circuses that disobey this act and mistreat their animals are breaking the law. Most circus cases focus on elephants, however, all animals should be protected from harsh treatment. The training of elephants begins when they are babies, they have all four of their legs chained up for 23 hours a day and while chained they are beaten and choked with electric rods to break their spirit. Most wounds are covered with make-up or blamed on the clumsiness of the animal.
An investigation by the Animal Defenders International found that dancing bears spend around 90% of their time inside a cage. ADI had also published a video showing a bear circling around a tiny steel cage measuring about 3½ feet wide and 8ft high, demonstrating the surreal life conditions these animals have to endure for our entertainment. It has been reported by the United States Animal Welfare, that most major circuses which used animals had been cited for violating the minimal standards of care set out by them. It has been documented that since 1990, 123 attacks on humans were made by large captive cats in the US, 13 of which were fatal.
There are three countries in the world that led the movement of banning the use of animals in circuses, the first being Bolivia, followed by China and Greece. The UK has banned the use of “wild” animals and the United States are currently fighting to ban the use of exotic animals. Ireland has banned the use of wild animals as of 2018 making it the 42nd state globally to do so. We can confront the use of animals in circuses by boycotting those circuses and supporting animal-free circuses like Cirque Du Soleil and Cirque Dreams, as well as the first ever circus using holographic animals, Roncalli, in Germany.
Featured photo by Mylon Ollila
This article was supported by: STAND Environment Editor Anastasiya + Programme Assistant Alex