Most of us grew up taking family trips to the circus, zoo, marine parks or rodeos. Seeing animals held captive for human amusement was part of life. We never questioned it. While it is assumed that all humans, unless they have committed crimes against society, deserve freedom, we are not used to making that assumption for members of other species. We should ask ourselves why not. What have the animals in a zoo or marine park done to deserve their jail sentences, or the elephants in a circus done to deserve lives spent mostly in chains?
Using animals in circuses and other performing acts is an unnecessary and inhumane practice that’s harmful to both the animals and the public. Unlike the human performers who choose to work in circuses, exotic animals are forced to take part in the show. They are involuntary actors in a degrading, unnatural spectacle. While many people associate the circus with “safe, wholesome, family fun,” the truth is much darker. Government inspection reports reveal ongoing mistreatment of animals in circuses, as well as failures to provide the basic minimal standards of care required by law.
Animals used in circuses have been injured and killed, and have injured and killed humans. Circuses that exploit animals make lofty claims about their “educational” value and their contributions to “conservation. ” But the real message that these circuses send to children is that it’s acceptable to abuse animals for amusement and profit. And the conservation claims made by many circuses are merely veiled attempts to justify the exploitation of animals for commercial gain. Endangered animals born in circus “conservation” programs have never been released into the wild — they are doomed, instead, to life in captivity.
Circus animals live in cars or in chains when not performing tricks in the ring. Most people, seeing tigers jumps through hoops of fire, or elephants stand on their heads, never think about what is behind those unnatural acts. The tricks that animals are forced to perform night after night are frightening, unnatural, and even painful. The circus would like us to believe that the animals are trained with positive reinforcement. If that were true then we would see trainers in the ring with bags of treats. Instead they carry whips and bull hooks.
The animals obey in the ring because they remember how those instruments of torture felt during training sessions. A bull hook is made of wood, metal, or other substantial material. It is approximately 2 to 3 feet long, and at one end is a sharp steel hook and poker. It is used to poke, prod, strike, and hit animals to “train” them — all for a few moments of human amusement. Chaining is used to confine elephants in captivity. It severely restricts an elephant’s movements, eliminating its ability to lie down, walk, or socialize with other elephants.
The severity of these restrictions can result in neurotic psychological behavior, physical injury, and even the death of captive elephants. (Karen Dawn). Animals in circuses pose threats to public health and safety. Animals in circuses are forced into lives far different from the ones nature intended. The conflict between their instincts and the harsh realities of captivity, as well as training methods that utilize violence, fear, and intimidation, cause wild animals tremendous amounts of stress. It is little wonder that some animals literally are driven mad and rebel in rampages that injure and kill people.
Animals have also escaped from their enclosures and freely roamed outside the property from where they are performing. In addition to causing major property damage, they can place local residents at risk from potential injury. Elephants may carry tuberculosis and can infect humans with the bacterial disease. Public records show that many circuses have a history of tuberculosis in their elephants, and that many have used them in public performances. Even at the world’s “best” zoos, the major problem is that the animals who live there are kept in enclosures that don’t allow them to live their lives in a natural way.
No matter how big some zoos try to make the enclosures, no matter how many branches they put in them, no matter how beautiful they make the background paintings on the wall, they don’t compare with the natural habitat the animals were meant to be in. Zoo animals have to spend day after day, week after week, year after year in the exact same enclosure. This makes their lives very monotonous. Elephants in the wild for instance, are used to traveling many miles a day in herds of about ten related adults and their offspring. They are very social animals.
In zoos, elephants are usually kept in pairs or even isolated. Their enclosures are incredibly small, compared to what they are used to in the wild. Elephants often show many signs of being stressed out or bored, like engaging in repetitive movements. (John Lloyd). It is no surprise that elephants don’t do well in zoos at all. The average lifespan of zoo elephants is about 16-18 years, while wild elephants can live 50-70 years. Older animals will eventually reach a pitiful fate of being dumped by large popular zoos, where lively adolescents are more popular with visitors.
They often end up in tiny filthy cages at roadside zoos across the country, or in canned hunts, where hunters pay large sums for the guaranteed kill of an exotic trophy animal. Dumping animals is the big, respectable zoos’ dirty little secret. Forget the myth of rodeos as all-American sport. Rodeos are cruel and deadly for animals, some are corrupt, and the crimes of some rodeo people go far beyond animals. Rodeo associations claim very few animals are injured and killed in rodeos. That is a lie. In fact, rodeo associations do not disclose animal injuries and deaths.
Furthermore, those who do commit humane violations are granted anonymity. (Matthew Scully). Electric prods, spurs, and bucking straps are used to irritate and enrage animals used in rodeos. The flank strap or rope, which is used to make horses and bulls buck, is tightly cinched around their abdomens; they buck to try to rid themselves of the torment. The irritation causes the animals to buck violently, which is what the rodeo promoters want them to do in order to put on a good show for the crowds. The flank strap, when paired with spurring, causes the animals to buck even more violently, often resulting in serious injuries.
Former animal control officers have found burrs and other irritants placed under the flank strap. Cows and horses are often prodded with an electrical “hotshot” while in the chute to rile them, causing intense pain. Although rodeo cowboys voluntarily risk injury by participating in events, the animals they use have no such choice. Because speed is a factor in many rodeo events, the risk of accidents is high. A terrified, screaming young horse burst from the chutes at the Can-Am Rodeo and, within five seconds, slammed into a fence and broke her neck.
Bystanders knew that she was dead when they heard her neck crack, yet the announcer told the crowd that everything would “be all right” because a vet would see her. (PETA). Many forms of animal entertainment have unfortunately become a mainstay in our society and therefore remain unquestioned. As responsible, caring citizens we can boycott the use of animals in the entertainment industry and patronize non-animal venues such as Circque-du-Soleil. As long as there is demand in these lucrative businesses they will continue to exist.