Circuses have been part of the entertainment culture for centuries.
Long before the conception of the cinema and television, circuses were often seen as a luxurious and unique source of entertainment. It was a symbol of adventure and the wild, an unknown traveling troupe that people often joked about running off and joining.
But underneath this mystique, circuses today have been exposed to be dangerous and cruel prisons for the animals forced to entertain.
These wild animals are often brutally tortured and trained to obey and perform and made to live a horrible existence. These distressed and frustrated animals can also prove to be dangerous and fatal to the both the keepers involved and the general public.
To follow a cruelty-free lifestyle, a person must always contemplate the safety and suffering of an animal in every action they do.
So why are animal circuses so intrinsically abusive and why should vegans avoid them?
The Dark History of Circuses
Animal abuse used as a form of entertainment has been prevalent even as far back as the Roman Age. The first ever record of the concept of a circus was in 99 B.C. with the use of elephants as a form of entertainment for the Roman Circus Maximus.
The Romans mainly used elephants in public shows and tournaments and were seen as the object of torment.
They would often hold contests where men were made to fight elephants to the death.
This was also the case for other types of exotic animals such as lions, bears, rhinos and giraffes, who were often deprived on purpose so that they would fight and kill each other for entertainment purposes.
Photo Credit: housekitano.blogspot.com.au
However, more recently in history, abuse towards elephants and animals for the use in circuses was just as prevalent, giving rise to the modern form of the circus as we know it today.
The 19th-century entertainer P.T. Barnum, the founder of the infamous circus Barnum and Bailey, hired assistants to travel to Sri Lanka and catch wild elephants to perform in his traveling entertainment troupe.
Written accounts from this expedition outline how the elephant’s ankles were tied with a noose and hoisted onto a ship for a 12,000 mile journey across the ocean to New York.
In his autobiography, The Life of P. T. Barnum, the showman writes almost lustfully how he and his team “killed large numbers of the huge beasts” on their expedition.
Circuses Continue to be Rife with Animal Abuse
The horrible abuse and mistreatment faced by animals in circuses have attracted the protest and outrage from animal rights activists and humane societies in the last few decades.
These captive wild animals suffer cruel and abusive training and handling practices and constant restrictive confinement, unnatural to their normal instincts.
The training methods used by circuses to ‘tame’ animals include varying degrees of deprivation and punishment. The animals are taught to perform for entertainment, and they do so, not because they desire to but because they are afraid of the consequences if they don’t.
In many circuses, the captive animals are made to breed, and their young segregated immediately, as younger animals are easier to control and influence.
Common training tools are electric shocks, bull hooks, whips and metal rods, implemented when the poor creature doesn’t perform with accuracy. In many countries, including the United States, there is no government organization in charge of monitoring these training methods.
Photo Credit: peta.org
Furthermore, there have been countless former animal trainers and circus performers speaking out against the cruelty experienced within the circus culture.
Two such individuals, Archele Hundley and Bob Tom contacted PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and outlined the routine animal abuse circus animals’ experience.
This included a recount of witnessing a 30-minute beating of an elephant in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that resulted in the animal bleeding profusely and screaming in pain. They also informed PETA that elephants were kept chained whenever out of the public eye and forced to perform when they were injured or sick.
Elephants are not the only circus animals prone to abuse.
There have been reports by other former circus trainers that horses have been grabbed by the throat, punched in the face, stabbed with pitchforks, and whipped through severe training.
Big cats have been hit with sticks, metal prods, and whips and dragged with chains wrapped around their necks. Bears are hit with long sticks, and chimpanzees are kicked and beaten ruthlessly as well has being whipped with riding crops.
PETA has released a score of undercover footage exposing the rampant abuse faced by circus animals. The video link below demonstrates Ringling trainers beating elephants and whipping big cats for an upcoming NYC show.
WARNING: This video may be hard to watch for some viewers.
Animals in circuses are granted no necessities and are often neglected into bad health.
They are denied basic veterinary care and are often deprived of proper food and drink.
Circus animals may travel hundred of miles in cramped cages, in environments and temperatures that are not natural for their species.
A study of traveling circuses analyzed that elephants spent 96% of their existence in chains and that all other performing animals are all forced to drink, eat, sleep and defecate in the same cramped cage, often holding two animals or more per cage.
Circuses Are Dangerous
Circuses are not only harmful towards animals but are also dangerous for both the circus performers and the general public.
There have been countless reports and legal cases involving the escape of circus animals, which have resulted in property damage, injured spectators and countless trainer and audience deaths.
Nearly all incidents have resulted in the animal in question being shot dead.
A whole selection of these instances involving escaped or distressed circus animals can be found in this pdf from the humanesociety.org.
A more infamous incident involved Tyke in Honolulu in 1994, an elephant traveling with the Circus International troupe.
WARNING: This video is extremely graphic
Tyke killed her trainer, crushing her to death, before charging at the audience, mostly consisting of small children and injuring at least a dozen. It took 87 bullets shot by the police to kill the distressed elephant.
This attack by Tyke was not an act of randomness. She had previously broken a former trainer’s ribs in North Dakota as well as causing $10,000 worth of damage in a rampage during a Shrine Circus performance in Altoona.
There are countless more attacks by circus animal on a regular basis, but there is no substantial video footage, mostly because most circuses prohibit the use of recording material within their shows.
To not attract unwanted attention, violations and lawsuits concerning abuse, property damage and death within the circus community are often settled quickly.
The Use of Animals in Circuses is Not Necessary
Along with failing attendance rates and the awareness of animal rights, nations across the globe legally recognize the vulgarity of animal circuses.
Sweden, Singapore, Costa Rica, Finland, India and Austria and more recently the UK ban or restrict animal circuses nationwide and specified districts within Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, and Greece have done the same.
More specifically, below are two pivotal wins for the animal rights movement and the reduction of cruelty in circuses.
- An elephant, Anne, performing for Bobby Robert’s ‘Super Circus’ was featured in confronting undercover footage in 2011 as her supposed ‘carer,’ Nicola Nitu, kicked and beat the poor elephant in her living quarters. After legal action was taken Nicola was found guilty of three counts of causing unnecessary suffering to a performing elephant, and Anne was transferred to Longleat Safari Park, to live a more desirable life.
- In early 2013, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban the use of the torture-like device, the bull hook. This hook is used to train elephants by causing them pain, their sharp hook tips ripping through delicate elephant hide. This ban also included the use of baseball bats, pitchforks and axe handles against performing elephants.
With the rising awareness of the mistreatment of circus animals, this push for legal action will undoubtedly increase.
Furthermore, some modern circus troupes understand the futility of abusing animals for entertainment and are performing their shows cruelty- free.
A very well known example of this is the Cirque de Soliel. Two street performers founded this circus, based in Montreal, in 1984 and now has 15 shows running simultaneously around the globe.
The abuse of animals for human entertainment has a long and dark history, and is a tradition that unfortunately has taken centuries to become a contested issue.
It is only through a greater awareness of the suffering inflicted upon circus animals by their trainers and through pressuring legal authorities and the circuses in question that we can stop this abuse.