The time has come to end travelling circuses
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.