Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Circus Animals

When we were kids, my brothers and I wanted so badly to go to the circus each time it came to town. Our parents refused to take us. They explained to us that it was animal cruelty and not something that they would willingly support. To us, it was child cruelty - how can you not take your kid to the circus? Most of our friends got to go.

As adults, we're grateful that we had such enlightened parents. They were far ahead of their time - teaching us that every living creature mattered and we all were important in the scheme things. It's easy to watch animals in entertainment and forget that they are living, breathing, feeling beings. That they feel pain and fear and stress just like we do. Hats off to my parents for seeing them that way.

What is life like for a performance animal?
Animals in circuses typically travel 11 months of the year, a lifestyle that makes it impossible to meet the needs of wild animals. While they’re traveling, animals spend long periods of time in confinement and social isolation. They’re denied the opportunity to exercise, socialize, forage and play. During travel elephants are typically chained inside of boxcars or trucks. Lions and tigers are usually kept in small travel cages only large enough to stand up and turn around. Trucks and trains are not always heated or air-conditioned, and they might go long periods of time without food and water. The only time animals aren’t confined is when they’re forced to perform.

How do they get the animals to perform?
Animals do not choose to perform - they are forced to perform. The actions performed by circus animals are often completely unnatural to them; in the wild, elephants do not walk on two feet and bears do not ride tricycles. The methods used train these behaviors often include intimidation, physical abuse and deprivation of food and water. Many undercover investigations have provided evidence of animals getting beaten with whips and bull hooks, and shocked with electric prods to perform their routines. Yet even persistent violators of the Animal Welfare Act are rarely prosecuted.

Are circuses safe to attend?
There have been hundreds of instances of animals, trainers, and audience members being hurt and even killed at circuses. No matter how much training an animal has had, wild animals will always remain unpredictable. The stress of enduring abuse and an unnatural lifestyle often builds until the animal finally lashes out. Many trainers have been injured in animal attacks, and audience members have been hurt as well when animals attempt to flee and manage to get past the barriers. If it becomes difficult to recapture the escaped animal, it is usually killed in the name of public safety.

What happens when an animal can no longer perform?
Animals do not enjoy a nice retirement when their performance days are over. Instead they are usually sold to roadside zoos, research labs, or into the exotic pet trade where their lives are equally miserable.

What can I do to help?
Every dollar you spend on entertainment is a vote on whether animals are exploited in the process. If you believe circus animals are treated unjustly, don’t attend any circuses that include animals in their show. There are dozens of circuses that perform throughout the U.S. which provide entertainment without the use of animals.

Fight for state and federal laws that protect animals and raise the standards of care. Current laws are weak and poorly enforced. Some areas have succeeded in keeping circuses away by banning exotic animal performances in their city. Educate friends and family members about what life is really like for these exotic animals, and encourage them not to bring their children to circuses that include animals.


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