Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
5 December 1999 Issue

Circuses: Animals Dying to Entertain You
By [email protected]

One of my first animal rights realizations occurred when I was at the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus. An elephant happened to walk close by to where we were sitting. I looked into her eyes and saw a sadness so terrible, I realized right then and there that I should not have been patronizing this circus. Even more important, the animals should not have been there either.

I immediately began researching the circus industry. I wanted to know if things were really as bad as the elephant's eyes were telling me that day in the arena. To my dismay, her eyes were right. I was hearing her plea for help loud and clear. Not only are circus animals continuously abused and plagued with diseases, they are deprived of adequate shelter, food, water, veterinary care, and everything that is natural to them. They are prisoners, captives who have committed no crime whatsoever, receiving a punishment that we would never allow to be inflicted upon even our most hardened criminals. It is slavery in its most modern form and it is time for it to stop!

The circus industry would love to have you believe that their animals, or rather prisoners, are trained with love and positive reinforcement. The truth of the matter is, an animal who is wild by nature is never going to submit to tenderness from a human, especially when forced to commit acts that are uncomfortable and often times painful. The only way to break their free spirits is through intimidation and the only way for the trainer to succeed is through physical and mental pain. The key is dominance and this is achieved by beating the animals with clubs, bull hooks, whips and other objects. Tight collars, muzzles, and electric prods are additional elements often found in the trainers' handbag. In addition to the beatings, food deprivation, drugging, and surgical removal or impairment of claws and teeth are other techniques. The fact of the matter is the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) does not prohibit any specific form of training. In the words of Pat Derby, former animal trainer, "After 25 years of observing and documenting circuses, I know there are no kind animal trainers."

According to Henry Ringling North, in his book "The Circus Kings," the large felines are "chained to their pedestals, and ropes are put around their necks to choke them down. They work from fear." Bears' noses are often broken during training and their paws burned in order to force them to stand on two legs. In an interview with the Elephant Alliance, a former employee of Ringling Bros. reported on Ringling's treatment of one animal: "She was a sweet little innocent brown bear who never hurt anyone, but sometimes she had trouble balancing on the high wire. She was then beaten with long metal rods until she was screaming and bloody. She became so neurotic that she would beat her head against her small cage. She finally died." A Hudson News reporter who traveled with Ringling reported on the training of one chimpanzee: "Repeatedly, he was struck with a sturdy club. The thumps could be heard outside the arena building, and the screams further than that."

Elephants, because of their enormous size and power, endure perhaps the most horrendous treatment. Chains, bull hooks, and fear are common elements in the training methods forced upon captive circus elephants. Adolescent elephants who were once wild are broken by forcing them to their knees, chaining them by all four legs so they cannot move, and beating them on a daily basis for as long as a month. The same treatment is granted adult elephants, but the industry ensures that this happens outside of your view. The beatings committed against these magnificent creatures are usually performed with bull hooks. Clubs with a sharp metal hook on the end, these weapons are used to tear and scar the elephants' most sensitive areas. In the past, one elephant lost her eye to a bull hook. The Humane Society located bull hook sores on the genital areas of multiple circus elephants. A horrendous thought is the fact that most elephant handlers are actually ex-carnival employees with no experience with animals whatsoever. They've simply been handed a weapon and told to beat the animal to submission. Sylvia K. Sikes, in "The Natural History of the African Elephant," tells us, "It is unusual to see tears running from the eyes of wild elephants, although it is common in captive specimens."

It is impossible to ignore the fact that animals used in circuses do not belong there. They are large, wild animals who are meant to roam free. Even if their lives were surrounded with love and compassion, they are still living in a miserable existence. For instance, during the traveling season, when they are not performing, (which is approximately 98 percent of the time) the animals are housed in small, desolate cages where they sleep behind bars on cold, concrete floors. This is a sad reality for animals who are quite large and naturally active. The AWA simply orders that the animals have adequate room to turn around and stand up. As a result, large felines often live and travel in cages only 4x6x5 feet. Many elephants spend their entire lives in chains. The infamous "Dumbo" wore "martingales," chains connected from his tusks to his feet, for 20 years.

The trucks and railway cars in which the animals retire to and travel in the 98 percent of the time they are not performing are more often than not lacking in heat and/or air conditioning. Most animals cannot adequately adjust to the climate changes and since veterinarians are not always present on site, numerous animals have been left to suffer and die due to exposure to extreme temperatures, lack of adequate food and water, and inefficient formal medical attention.

There is no true "off-season" for circus animals, since the majority of performing animals are leased from dealers. When one circus is finished with them, they are simply shipped off to another, following seasonal contracts. This creates another scary thought, considering that not only are these animals being used and abused almost daily, there is no supervision on the part of the true "owners." The lessors, who have no attachments to these animals what so ever, are free to do with them as they wish! Do not assume that when the animals are back "home" with their "owners" that the situation is any better. They are usually housed in the same conditions as when they are performing (in traveling cars, barn stalls, and even trucks). In addition, they are still being "trained," which means they are being beaten and tortured each day, in order to ensure that they are well prepared for their next circus venture.

These deplorable, off-season quarters often become permanent retirement homes for those animals who have been deemed no longer useful to the circus. Those retired animals who are not placed in the winter homes are either sold to other circuses, zoos, roadside attractions, private individuals, game farms, or research laboratories. It is obvious that, even once their "careers" are over, these animals do not have much hope for a happy, fulfilling life. Their lives end in much the same conditions they were forced to previously live in: confinement, domination, pain, and suffering.

The constant confinement plagued upon these animals, day after day, creates dangerous physical and psychological problems for performing animals. The Born Free Foundation conducted a study in which they found that confined elephants spend 22 percent of their time in atypical, behavior including head bobbing and swaying. They also found that imprisoned bears spend as much as 30 percent of their time pacing. Self-mutilation is another common reaction to the stress, loneliness, and boredom caused by the deprivation of family and any sense of freedom as their lives are completely dominated by their handlers.

Clearly, the magnificent creatures of the circus, paraded around, humiliated, and beaten day after day, do not deserve to live in this miserable existence. If what you have just read is not enough to turn your heart against the circus, please continue to read as Animal Rights Online presents you with further reason to fight the circus.

Go on to Don't Put Your Child on Someone Who's Wild
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