By Deb Young
The circus is supposed to be fun for everyone, right?
Wrong! Have you ever thought what the circus is like for the animals who perform in it? Sadly, they are often not treated with respect or kindness.
Spending life locked alone until it’s time to rehearse or perform and traveling from town to town is not a healthy life for exotic animals like elephants, bears, and big cats who perform in circuses.
In many circuses, animals are trained through the use of intimidation and physical abuse. Former circus employees have reported seeing animals beaten, whipped, poked with sharp objects and even burned to force them to learn their routines. They are taught that if they do not obey the animal trainer, they will be abused physically.
Many circus animals are kept in small cages, away from their natural environments. Don’t you think a Bengal tiger would have more fun running through a Himalayan forest than jumping through a hoop? Animals are likely to get sick as a result of these unnatural conditions. Many even die in captivity.
Making an animal do something he wasn’t meant to do or doesn’t want to do is a form of cruelty, too. Elephants are not meant to do balancing acts, bears aren’t meant to dance, and lions are not meant to jump through flaming hoops. It is disrespectful to make animals perform tricks for human audiences.
Would you want to be forced to perform embarrassing stunts every day, then sleep alone in a small cage at night? Circus animals should not have to, either.
Here are 6 facts you may not know about the circus:
1. Less than 100 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors are assigned to monitor the 12,000 circus-related facilities in America.
2. Trainers use whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bullhooks, and other painful tools of the trade to force animals to perform.
3. Every major circus that uses animals has been cited for violating the minimal standards of care set forth in the United States Animal Welfare Act.
4. On average, circuses travel about 48 weeks per year and Circus animals spend an average of 26 hours in cages, during transport.
5. Virtually 96 percent of a circus animal’s life is spent in chains or cages.
6. Repetitive and often destructive behaviors such as obsessive swaying, bobbing, chewing, sucking, weaving, rocking, and licking are common in circus animals, and are manifestations of their extreme stress and boredom.
Because of their forced immobility, circus animals may develop arthritis or other joint problems.
Do you know that you can help make a difference in the lives of animals who are forced to perform at circuses? Here’s what you can do:
Don’t go to the circus—unless it’s one that doesn’t feature any animal performers.
Most people who attend the circus aren’t aware of the abuse that goes on behind the scenes. Spread the word by writing a letter to the editor of the local paper when the circus is in the area or call a local radio station.
Learn as much as you can about the different kinds of animals who perform in circuses. Find out where and how they live in the wild. You can also find out what conservation groups are doing to help these species in the wild. Support them and tell them how much you care about these animals.
For many people, ignorance is bliss, but as facts continue to emerge, it’s harder to turn a blind eye from the abuse your paying to witness.