We got a few free tickets to the circus a couple weeks ago and decided to go. I was really excited and so was Brock because I used to love the circus. Well, there was a reason it was free. The circus itself wasn’t so bad, but they used animals in their show. This wasn’t a big deal to me until I came across some information about circus animals and animal cruelty. I know that most circuses are regulated by the government, but there is no way to constantly monitor the trainers and circus staff. When we went, I looked at the animals from a different perspective. Instead of “look how cute”, I realized wow, look how sad to have to be chained up, poked and prodded, dressed up, and perform for these dumb circus acts. They had about 8 goats running around in about a 8 foot space all day and night. For elephant training, they use these long metal rods with a hook at the end called bull hooks. I heard the elephant with my own ears cry when the man poked it in his mouth to get him to start walking.
The Humane Society of the United States has monitored circuses for 20 years, chronicling training methods and living conditions that the animals routinely experience. We have kept track of incidents and anecdotes that explode many of the myths that circuses want you to believe—myths that help them perpetuate the big lie behind the big top.
Myth #1: Circus animals perform tricks out of love for their trainers.
Fact: While circus promoters claim that trainers use only positive reinforcement, or rewards, reports prove otherwise. Circus training methods include beating animals with clubs and other objects (even during performances) and depriving them of food. Trainers sometimes strike elephants with sharpened hooks, which can result in physical injury. Trainers resort to brutal methods to maintain a position of dominance. Yet wild animals will always behave in instinctive and unpredictable ways and can never be made willing or safely manageable through training.
Myth #2: Circus animals are like beloved children, taught and nurtured their whole lives.
Fact: Many circus animals are leased seasonally from dealers. The animals move from circus to circus, following seasonal contracts. Many circuses don’t bother to provide regular, competent veterinary care. Animals who aren’t obedient or who have grown too old to perform may be sold or given to zoos, roadside attractions, research laboratories, or private individuals—options unlikely to improve their quality of life.
Myth #3: After the show, the animals rest in comfort.
Fact: After the show, the animals are locked in cages and shipped to the next town. Circus animals spend much of their lives in small, often dirty cages, barely able to turn around. Circus animals often are shipped in trucks and railway cars without heat or air conditioning and often are deprived of food and water for extended periods.
Myth #4: The circus is safe fun for the whole family.
Fact: People, as well as animals, are injured at circuses. In 1994, an elephant named Tyke charged through an audience in Honolulu after killing one circus employee and injuring another. Tyke was shot to death on a city street. In 1990, a chimpanzee abandoned his motorcycle act, rushed into the stands, and bit a child. In 1994, a baby elephant named Mickey was beaten during a performance. A month later, during another performance, Mickey attacked a child.
Myth #5: Circuses serve endangered species by educating children and adults.
Fact: Watching wild animals perform unnatural tricks outside their natural habitats doesn’t teach people anything about the animals. By displaying bears as tricycle-riding buffoons and by dressing elephants in tutus, circuses present animals as creatures whose purpose is to amuse us.
Myth #6: Laws protect animals in circuses.
Fact: While standards for handling, care, treatment, and transport are written into the federal Animal Welfare Act (administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), those standards are minimal and poorly enforced. Persistent violators are rarely prosecuted.