Circus Life: Is it Fun for the Animals? Contest for Humane Educators
An Animal Rights Article from


The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
September 2010

Contest opens September 1st, email here. All entries must be post marked no later than November 31st.

Have you ever been to a circus, beneath the big top? Were you dazzled by the shining lights, enticed by the smell of fresh popcorn, entertained by the elephant and pony rides? The circus strives to enchant its visitors, but have you ever wondered if the animals were actually having as much fun as the crowd? Do the tigers want to jump through flaming hoops? What if they don't?

We would like you to research and think about these and several other questions. Rememberóthe circus may seem fun for humans, but this contest is about the animals under the spotlight.


Your challenge as a humane educator is to learn about the lives of circus animals. After your research is complete, use your findings to create an entry that supports animal-free circuses and shows.

Please use the following questions as guidelines for your research. You do not need to address each question; your entry may be more unified if you focus on only one or two to develop your core message.

  • Where do circuses get their animals from?
  • What does the audience learn about animal behavior and conservation from the circus?
  • Do circus tricks come naturally to animals?
  • How are animals trained? Who are the trainers and what type of schooling do they have?
  • Where do animals live when not performing? How are they transported between shows? How much time do the animals spend on the road?
  • Where do animals go once they are too old to perform? Do all animals go to the same place? Do different species go different places?
  • Think of some of the animal species often used in the circus. What types of family groups do these animals have in the wild? What types of family groups occur within the circus?
  • Beside family groups, how else is an animalís life in the circus different from life in the wild?
  • Can circuses be fun without animals? Are there any circuses around that donít use animals?
  • Do circuses regularly meet federal standards of care? How often are they fined and/or cited for poor animal husbandry?
  • There are many things that regular people can do to help circus animals; what types of things can you think of?

Return to Animal Rights Articles