In many cases, when the word circus is mentioned it brings to minds of many images that are vivid of amazing comedic clowns, acrobats and exotic animals. However, unlike the human entertainers in the circus, it is not the choice of these animals to be in the circus. In most cases, these animals are kept in captivity and are forced to take part in these shows. In most cases, shows and circuses that use animals as entertainers, aggressively support and promote the use of exotic animals as wholesome, safe and fun entertainment for the whole family. This, however, is not the case, as the animals remain as captives, and involuntary participants in a spectacle that is degrading and hurtful after the glitter and glamour of the show has settled, participating out of fear and not out of interest. Though numerous individuals are starting to become aware of the problems and pain these animals are subjected to in the circus, they still continue to attend and enjoy animal- circuses. Tigers, elephants, lions, bears, other big cats, primates and exotic reptiles among others are the common animals one can find in animal circuses that are subjected to living conditions that are cramped and unnatural, they travel all year round, they are subjected to training methods that are cruel that use force, pain, violence, intimidation and fear, and they also have to suffer loud crowds and extraordinarily bright colors whilst they perform (Kiley-Worthington 23- 76).
Despite a larger public awareness and better policies protecting animals and related issues, an extremely little change has occurred for the last years in the way circus animals are treated (Kiley-Worthington 23- 76). Through this paper, the author intends to increase and raise more public awareness about how circus animals are treated. The information that follows below outlines a number of specific challenges that have been witnessed in circuses that utilize animals. Additionally, the paper will also provide the audience with a number of recommendations that can be followed or implemented to make sure that future circuses will be composed of participants who are willing, and leave the animals alone in the wild, free.
There are various shortcomings involved when it comes to the proper treatment of circus animals. In particular for species that are derived from the wild accommodation becomes a big threat to their existence and well- being. While domestic animals are extremely easy to accommodate, it is not usually the case with wild animals. Furthermore, training does not usually have to bring about challenges and problems for the wellbeing of circus animals, provided that they are trained in ways that are rewarding and provided that the animals use to participate in the circus do not mind the performing. The display and performance of tricks is an occupation that becomes a routine for animals, and this can only become acceptable when the animal handlers and trainers respect the fact that animals at times do not like performing or are tired. Transport is another issue associated with circuses and all of its performers. It is clear that most of these circus animals will at one time experience transport as stressful in the initial stages (Kiley-Worthington 23- 76).
Now let us look at these issues more closely. The first issue associated with circus animals we are going to look at is transportation. It is widely known that circus animals spend most of their time and lives in cages, boxcars, and chains. This life is notably different than the kind of life they were living or they would be living n their natural habitats like in the wild. Wild elephants, for example, never live alone; they live and walk in huge social herds and walk for 25 miles a day, more or less. Lions, tigers and other wild cats found in the circus are also used to staying on the move in their natural habitats. When compared to the lives these animals are subjected to in the circus, a bug difference is notable. Wild animals used in circuses are often confined in travel trains or trucks for not less than 300 days in a year. To deny these animals their freedom to walk around freely and to participate in other instinctual activities they are used to is without a doubt cruel (European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) 1-6).
During their transportation to their next performance, they go over long distances for days at a time, and they usually are forced to stand and lie in their own excretions, and they may be chained or caged, often in vehicles and trains that lack controls and regulation of temperature. In most cases, people pass a semi- truck on roads carrying these animals and they can never guess what is in them because they are usually caged in as normal non- living cargo. Most of the travel vehicles and trains used by circuses are usually dark, small, dirty and in most cases in dangerous states of mis- maintenance and disrepair. The US department of Agriculture, under the welfare act of animals has repeatedly cited circuses for trailers that have sharp, splintering wood and protruding pieces of metal near the cages of the animals. It is often when circus animals are born, die and get injured while being transported from one area to another (Friend 4-7).
Training is another extremely essential issue concerned with circuses. Animal training is a term used to refer to training or teaching if animals to respond specifically to specific stimuli and conditions. Training has numerous uses in training animals for companionship, protection, detection, and entertainment. The animal trainer may use a number if punishments and reinforcements to condition the animal to respond as required. However, some trainers of animals have the basic knowledge and skills of operating conditioning and behavior analysis. There are, however, numerous ways to teach or train an animal with no legal certifications or requirements required (McDonald 78- 123). There are a number of associations that have been formed to monitor the use of animals, and especially in the entertainment industry. One such organization is referred to as American Humane Association. Though these organizations are useful in some cases, they have failed to regulate the way animals are taught and trained. Repetition and patient are two critical elements in any effective or successful training of an entertainment animal.
While some trainers have the above, mentioned elements, most lack them and apply methods that are hurtful to the animal. The circus industry has misled many to believe that the animals who participate in the circus have, for their entire lives, been exposed to training methods that utilize positive reinforcement. Just in the same way, when the show is progressing the audience might be led to believe that these animals are treated well when they see them receiving praise, food rewards, and positive feedback from their handlers. However, if the audience were to be keen and observant enough, they would also notice the presence or even use of several devices of domination and intimidation such as bull hooks. The USDA has even documented and compiled enough evidence of animal trainers striking large cats and elephants while performing their tricks (McDonald 78- 123).
What the circus trainers, and industry as a whole, does not want its audience and other interested parties to see is what happens or what goes on behind the scenes, where the best training method is first to break each one of these animals and keep on training them for the rest of their lives so that they obtain the ability to perform tricks that are unnatural throughout their lives. It is common sense that such huge animals such as the elephant or animas with such long and sharp teeth would naturally and simply dominate over s mere human being and that is natural cases; he would not be forced to do something against their will. But the circus philosophy is that no matter what the show must go on, and does, whether or not the animal participants want to be a part of it or not, or whether they can perform a certain trick or not. The tricks and performances that these animals are forced to perform are frightening, extremely unnatural, and in most cases uncomfortable and painful; however, despite all these the animals have to perform them or risk being punished harshly. Form such performances; it is clear to most viewers that it is only the use of methods for training and teaching that are tougher than the animals themselves that can make such huge animals obey small human beings (McDonald 78- 123).
The bull hook, which can also be referred to as the ankus or the hook can perhaps, be considered as one of the most infamous tool in the arsenal of an animal trainer or handler. It is often used on large animals like the elephant. The bull hook is thick, and long pole with a sharp metal hook at its end. Though skin of elephants is extremely sensitive, it is also thick. It is not uncommon, during training of elephants for them to drop to their knees and scream painfully to avoid other blows from this painful device. In addition to the bull hook or ankus for beating or stabbing the animal, animal handlers and trainers also use other methods, as well as, tools for, first beating the animal and then training them for their entire lives including deprivation of water and food, lengthy chaining, utilization of clubs, whips, electric prods and blunt objects (McDonald 78- 123).
Animal husbandry is another issue commonly associated with animals in performing circuses. Though in most case abuses is through the infliction of physical pain or discomfort, in other cases is presents itself in the form of negligence through inaction. USDA inspection reports are some of the most reliable evidence of animals that have been deprived of fresh and clean water and food, clean living areas, and even the most basic shelter from cold or hot weather. In most cases, animal vets are never on site or around and if available, local vets are never given the medical information about these animals (Kiley-Worthington 23- 76). As a result, most of these animals never get to see a doctor for their injuries or medical conditions, and they usually have to languish through pain and either die or heal incorrectly. The USD has for a long time cited most circuses for their reluctance and failure to keep vet records and information of their animals, for food that has either gone rancid or moldy, and for failure to provide animals with water, for lack of proper chemical storage facilities, something that always lead to the storage of these chemicals near the animal’s food and water supply, and for stocking and treating their animals with medical supplies that are outdated or expired (Houck 453- 54).
Animal husbandry is closely related to animal welfare issues for performing or circus animals which can be divided into five categories. These categories include such facets as accommodation, training, transport, winter accommodation and performance. To properly analyze and comprehend these five issues, one can use the five liberties defined by the animal welfare committee in Britain. The liberties act are commonly used a guideline for the policy used by European countries regarding entertainment animals for the purposes of safeguarding their wellbeing. These five freedoms include the freedom from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition, the freedom from any kind of discomfort that might result from the environment they have been placed, the freedom from diseases, pain and injury, freedom to express or display the normal characteristics in behavior related to that particular species and the freedom from distress and fear (European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) 1-6). It is essential, therefore, to differentiate between violations of welfare than are preventable, for example, not providing an animal with enough water or food, and welfare violations that are at times unavoidable, like transporting the animal from one place to another. However, the unavoidable violations should be done in ways that do not put the animal under unnecessary, stress pain, or discomfort. Welfare violations that are unavoidable can also be causes to close down or ban a circus (Kiley-Worthington 23- 76).
The living conditions under which these animals are subjected to while in the circus are another issue that has been commonly associated with the circus. Most of the animals performing in the circuses were never born in the entertainment industry, they were brought in from the wild and they are, therefore, meant to be living in their natural habitats in the wild. Instead of living in these habitats were they are free to ram and live based on their natural instincts, they are captured and forced to live and travel in a life they are unaccustomed to, and in living quarters that are cramped and far much limited than the habitats they are used to. They are in most cases forced to sleep, eat and excrete in the same place. Circuses are only successful when they constantly travel to numerous locations; during these journeys, water and food are limited, and cleaning and bathing these animals is pushed to the bottom of the priority list, something that extends to their drinking water. In most cases elephants are tired down with chains and forced to spend most of their times standing. Their babies are taken away from them so that they can also be trained as circus elephants (Kiley-Worthington 23- 76).
Many animals in the cases have burns from being tied with ropes or chains for long periods of time. Most circuses do not also care or give any considerations to the climate; animals are, therefore, regularly exposed to extreme climates such as cold and heat. In addition to these troubles, their diets their diets are never proper and they do not consist of the normal foods such animals would naturally consume and in most cases, the animals are under fed in the interest of forcing the animals to perform as required. Disease is also a common occurrence among most animals in the circus. Veterinarians qualified to attend to the animals are usually not present on site, and in most cases the circuses do not have adequate medical care programs or plans for the animals (Houck 453- 54).
Mental distress is another issue that is common among circus animals. The combination of many of the conditions and circumstances mentioned above has been cited to be among the leading causes of mental distress among most animals in the circus. There have been numerous cases whereby animals have savagely attacked their trainers or handlers as a result of this distress, and in some cases circus animals have escaped from their handlers or cages. Since the 1990s, numerous attacks have been noted and recorded (Carlstead 317- 33). For example, 46 human deaths have been reported to have occurred as a result of captive big cats attacking their handlers and the killing of not less than 70 rogue big cats. Since the year 1990, about 13 human deaths have also been reported to have resulted from attacks by captive bears, 8 of these victims were said to be children. These attacks led to the hunting and killing of about 26 bears that had gone rogue. Also since the same years, attacks by primates that were under captivity were reported to have resulted to two human deaths, 130n injuries, and the killing of about 450 rogue primates. Since the same period, captive elephants have also been reported to have killed about 57 people; the same elephants injured not less than 120 individuals (Carlstead, Shepherdson 337- 354).
Though these deaths and injuries are sad, when you really think about it, it becomes impossible to blame these animals for their actions. Their anger comes from being forced to leave their natural habitats to perform tricks that are unnatural and to bear inhumane actions against them such as bearing the devices used by trainers such as bull hooks, electric shock, and other training methods such as removing teeth, burning the paws and hoofs of the animals and being drugged or muzzled. It is these actions against them that lead to them to become insane and attack their handler savagely (Carlstead 317- 33).
Other issues related to animal circuses and not necessarily related to animals are the issues of public safety and public health. The combination of chaotic crowds, wild animals that are held under captivity, and the stress of constant exhibition and travel and training can be essential recipe for public disasters. When animals have been removed so far from the environment they are used to and subjected to mind- boggling experiences, it is of little wonder that numerous animals held under captivity literary go crazy and are driven to insanity by their experiences and constantly rebel their handlers and escape. These escapes can result to major rampages that can cause significant damage to property and serious injuries to the public. As already mentioned, circus animals such as elephants, big cats, and bears have contributed to numerous human deaths and injuries since the year 1990 (Carlstead, Shepherdson 337- 354).
A good example of how circus animals can be a threat to public safety is the notable incident when two elephants in Circus Vasquez escaped their circus and rampaged through a church full of people almost trampling on member, including small children. The two elephants had been leased by the Hawthorn Corporation, and they crashed through windows in the church knocking down a car 15 feet away. One of the two elephants had been involved in a similar incident but its handlers did not take the required precautions (Carlstead, Shepherdson 337- 354).
Besides compromising the safety of the public significantly, exposure to animals that perform in the circus, especially elephants has been indicated to have certain harmful effects to the health of an individual. In most settings in the circus, for example, exposure and contracting tuberculosis is a real concern. This disease has been indicated to affect a number of animal species, and it is commonly associated with elephants in the circus, and it easily communicable between human elephant handlers and the elephants. According to reports released by USDA, any animal handler who comes in contact with elephants that have tuberculosis is at an extremely high risk of contracting the disease. Since time in memorial, many circuses have been implicated for using elephants infected with tuberculosis, and in some cases, certain circuses have been cited to use elephants with the disease in their performance, potentially putting the lives of the communities and families in danger of contracting this disease (Banks et al 362- 365).
As earlier mentioned, this paper cannot be complete without providing the audience with appropriate solutions to issues affecting circus animals. Before coming to the best solution of these issues, one should always consider how exploiting animals for the purposes of making profits in the circus helps in conserving wild animals. It is clear that exploitation of animals does not lead or help in the conservation of wild animals. Despite what the circus industry might have the public belief, it is quite clear that a tiger fighting hard to jump through a hoop of flames in an arena to entertain an American audience has nothing to do with being concerned with the plight of the tigers in their natural, wild habitats. While elephants are forced to perform heads stands and stand on stepstools for the audiences, the other wild elephants are struggling to keep up with their continuously shrinking habitat and fall before the guns and traps of poachers (Zimmermann, Hatchwell and West 24- 59).
Although it is true that most circuses breed animals that are endangered in captivity, it is also true that they do so only for them to reap profits from the crowds that come in to see the baby animals, and to add more to their tortured, circus animals, and not to enrich the wild. None of these animals that the circus breeds are ever released to the wild for reproduction. This breeding, therefore, does nothing to solve the problems facing endangered or almost extinct species, such as preventing trophy hunting, poaching, loss of prey and habitat. Circuses are no place for animals, and even though life in the natural wild habitat is increasingly becoming difficult, conservations efforts should be made to ensure that such animals as elephants, lions and tigers are assured of an existence that is safe in their natural and wild habitats (Zimmermann, Hatchwell and West 24- 59). Individual audiences can be a big help in helping organizations ban and stop circuses from using animals for their performances. For example, individuals could take a pledge to not offer support to circuses that use exotic animals. They should instead offer support to circuses that do not use animals. People could also campaign amongst their friends and families about the disadvantages of using animals in circuses. One can also carry out activist campaigns requiring governments to impose policies that can be used to prohibit the use of animals in circuses (Haltenorth and Diller 123- 34).
Circus animals are exposed to a wide variety of circumstances and conditions that can be harmful to both their physical and mental health. Some of these include such things as harsh training, bad living conditions, and non- stop transportation throughout the year, violence, deprivation of food, water, and clean sleeping quarters. In addition to this, animals are also expected to live and perform without receiving proper or no medical care at all. Animals that have been injured either die or suffer pain for long periods of time and they might not heal properly. Animals are put and chained in confined and small living quarters that might distress exotic animals that are used to free roaming and social groups. All of these conditions areas stressful to the animal and do not further the conservation concerns of wild animals. Support should be offered to circuses that do not use animals in performances. Circuses that use animals should be banned.
Banks, M., et al. ‘Aujeszky’s disease in captive bears’, Veterinary Record 145 (1999): 362-365. Print
Carlstead, K. and Shepherdson, D. ‘Alleviating stress in zoo animals with environmental enrichment’. In: The biology of animal stress (eds. Moberg, G.P. & Mench, J.A.), Oxon, UK: CABI Publishing, 2000: 337-354. Print
Carlstead, K. ‘Effects of captivity on the behavior of wild mammals.’ in Klieman, DG, ME Allen, and Thompson KV (eds.), Wild mammals in captivity. University of Chicago Press: University of Chicago Press, 1996: 317–33. Print
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). ‘The welfare of animals during transport’ Scientific Report of the Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare on a request from the Commission related to the welfare of animals during transport (Question N° EFSA-Q- 2003-094), 2004. Print
Friend, T. H. ‘Final Report: Transportation and Management of Circus Animals: Transportation of Circus Elephants’ USDA Contract No. 00-6100-0004-GR, 2001.
Haltenorth, T. and Diller. H. Collins Field Guide – Mammals of Africa including Madagascar. UK: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996. Print
Houck, R. ‘Veterinary care of performing elephants.’ In Fowler ME (Ed.): Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine: Current Therapy. New York: Saunders Ltd, 1993: 453-454. Print
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