Animals are very entertaining. Most pet owners have great stories to share with us about their furry, feathered or scaly friends. However, how many people know about the problems linked with circuses? How many would stop attending if they had a chance to see what goes on backstage, and before and after the show? There are quite a lot of unnatural, if not downright cruel, activities going on, hidden from public view.
First, what kind of animal rides bicycles, stands on their two front legs, or jump in hoops, in their natural habitat? These tricks are learned at the expense of living a normal life, and nothing is instinctive or decent about making a lion open his mouth and swallow a few human hairs. They learned to do this by being frightened into accepting it. Any human who was battered as a child, or anyone who was ever enslaved, will tell you the feeling of desperation and powerlessness that goes with being treated this way. These animals fear for their lives and might even be ashamed of being publicly displayed this way.
They are taught through a technique that is not being used with children anymore in most cultures: punishment and deprivation. There is nothing natural about this form of rearing; whips, collars, muzzles, electric prods and any other painful tool is not the way to be respected, but the way to scare animals into accepting the meaningless task at hand. Some circuses go as far as making the animals bleed into submission. And one would think that they at least give a treat once in a while, but it isn’t so; most circuses don’t believe in positive reinforcement.
As though this wasn’t enough, the animals are all confined in small cages between shows and training sessions. They often don’t receive sufficient food, water or veterinary care, and are exposed to extreme weather, and aren’t even let out to relieve themselves: they do their business in their cages. Urine can burn their skin and cause calluses on their paws. Furthermore, elephants, for example, need to exercise to keep their paws healthy, and are used to walking several miles per day. Staying in a cage makes their joints become lame.
Of course, some animals become crazy, enraged or depressed under this type of pressure. This can become extremely dangerous, not only for the trainers, but for the public as well. When out of control, these animals are very hard to tranquilize or kill, if that is what is needed. An elephant can need up to 100 bullets before falling. Imagine how many children it can kill in that time. Of course, elephants aren’t the only ones that cause havoc, but they are the most difficult to stop once they start. Bears, lions and horses can all be very dangerous as well if they do not want to accept the abuse they are put through anymore.
However, even though a circus does not encourage painful discipline, it is still unnatural for an animal to be kept this way. They are bored out of their minds in the most minor conditions, and become extremely stressed and scared in the most extreme cases. Please, put your vote – your money – where it counts, and encourage human-only circuses. There are plenty, and they offer an excellent quality of shows, without the torture.
Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)