The time has come to end trav­el­ling cir­cuses

Vancouver Sun - - OPINION - BY DEBRA PROBERT Debra Probert is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Van­cou­ver Hu­mane So­ci­ety.

In 1992 the City of Van­cou­ver ap­proved a by­law to pro­hibit the use of per­form­ing ex­otic and wild an­i­mals, in­clud­ing those in cir­cuses. In sub­se­quent years, all of the most densely pop­u­lated ar­eas in Bri­tish Columbia, in­clud­ing the cities of Sur­rey, Co­quit­lam, Burn­aby, Vic­to­ria and Kelowna fol­lowed suit.

Why? Be­cause lit­tle by lit­tle, so­ci­ety has come to re­al­ize that it is cruel and de­mean­ing to take an­i­mals out of their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, chain them or lock them in cages for the ma­jor­ity of their lives and make them do tricks.

I have per­son­ally spent many long hours ob­serv­ing the abuse which is in­her­ently present in any trav­el­ling sit­u­a­tion that in­volves wild or ex­otic an­i­mals. Ele­phants, for pub­lic safety rea­sons, must be kept on chains and their only ex­er­cise is the strictly con­trolled per­form­ing that they do a few short min­utes a day. The ankus, or bull­hook, is used to guide the huge beasts by goug­ing the ten­der area be­hind their ears.

Bears and tigers live in trav­el­ling cages in which they can barely turn around. They live, eat, sleep, uri­nate and defe­cate in the same small place. I am aware that con­di­tions in “win­ter” fa­cil­i­ties are lit­tle bet­ter than trav­el­ling con­di­tions rather than the grassy hillocks the in­dus­try would have you be­lieve. The aber­rant be­hav­iour pro­duced in these an­i­mals is read­ily ap­par­ent as they sway and rock, self-mu­ti­late and pace in their un­nat­u­ral, de­prived en­vi­ron­ments. These an­i­mals are mere shad­ows of what they were meant to be; mere car­i­ca­tures of the wild­ness they rep­re­sent.

The cir­cuses that per­form in Canada are pri­mar­ily based in the South­ern United States. This means that the an­i­mals are dragged from city to city, of­ten with gru­elling sched­ules for the hu­mans in­volved, never mind the an­i­mals. Some­times cir­cuses set up in the morn­ing, per­form in the early af­ter­noon and evening, and pull up stakes in the dark, of­ten trav­el­ling hun­dreds of miles to the next venue. In 1998, a BC SPCA of­fi­cial in Pow­ell River cited a sit­u­a­tion where two ele­phants who per­formed there crossed from Co­mox to Pow­ell River by ferry and back again on the same day, on very rough seas.

Whether or not ba­sic med­i­cal care is pro­vided to the an­i­mals in cir­cuses has also come un­der scrutiny. Rin­gling Brothers, the largest cir­cus in North Amer­ica, has been re­peat­edly cited for vi­o­la­tions of the U. S. An­i­mal Wel­fare Act. In fact, just last week, a Rin­gling Bros. ele­phant named Sarah col­lapsed on a side­walk af­ter a per­for­mance in Ana­heim, Calif. It is al­leged that the cir­cus has failed to prop­erly treat her for an in­fec­tion. And it was af­ter a tiger was singed in front of a crowd of shocked chil­dren while jump­ing through a flam­ing hoop in Co­quit­lam that a by­law in that mu­nic­i­pal­ity was passed.

The dan­ger to the pub­lic is not to be taken lightly. There are myr­iad ex­am­ples of ele­phants “ break­ing” and go­ing on ram­pages and tigers es­cap­ing their cages with se­ri­ous or even deadly con­se­quences for not only cir­cus per­son­nel, but also the pub­lic.

Al­though many pur­vey­ors of this kind of en­ter­tain­ment claim to be do­ing en­dan­gered species ed­u­ca­tion, the truth is that there’s ab­so­lutely no ed­u­ca­tional value for chil­dren in see­ing these magnificent beasts cowed and starved into per­form­ing acts that have no ba­sis in na­ture. Wild an­i­mals do not jump through flam­ing rings of fire; nor do they stand on their heads or carry chil­dren around on their backs.

To put them into a sit­u­a­tion where there is loud mu­sic, scream­ing chil­dren and flash­ing lights, sim­ply for the sake of en­ter­tain­ment, seems not only cruel, but to­tally un­nec­es­sary in this age of tech­nol­ogy. Make no mis­take – it is only done for profit.

The move to ban trav­el­ling per­form­ing an­i­mal acts in most of B. C., rather than be­ing pro­posed by a fringe move­ment, was sup­ported by a cadre of ex­perts, or­ga­ni­za­tions and con­cerned in­di­vid­u­als. The BC SPCA has long had a pol­icy op­pos­ing this kind of ex­ploita­tion, as have most hu­mane so­ci­eties and SPCAs across Canada and the U. S. Such lu­mi­nary fig­ures as Bri­tish an­thro­pol­o­gist Jane Goodall and Canada’s own David Suzuki have also in­di­cated their sup­port.

The re­al­ity is that a cir­cus with an­i­mals is a sad spec­ta­cle that de­means not only the an­i­mals, but the hu­mans who watch.

RON BORRESON/ MCT

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