˝The notion that it is entertaining to see animals being coerced into acting like clumsy humans, or amusing to see powerful animals reduced and cowering to whips, supports theold idea that we are superior to animals of other species and we have the right to dominate them.˝ - Dr Desmond Morris, anthropologist and expert on animal behaviour.
Circuses attract the public, especially children, for being colourful, fun and original. Sadly the reality is a sad one for animals incarcerated in them. Because circuses often travel many miles between different sites, animals invariably suffer. Both wild and domestic species are currently exhibited in UK circuses, and both of these suffer hardships. The temporary accommodation for animals, confined quarters, aswell as abusive training practices inflicting pain and stress means a life of misery for lions, tigers, elephants and domestic animals in circuses. Natural behaviours are thwarted and animals have to endure performances several times a day. Travelling animal circuses, by their very nature, cause distress and suffering. It is a world of confinement, deprivation and violence.
All of the animals forced to live in circuses – tigers, lions, bears, elephants, etc. live out their entire lives deprived of freedom and, in the vast majority of cases, only come out of their cages or boxes or off their chains to be forced to perform demeaning tricks. These animals are individuals who would travel hundreds of miles if they could in search of food or shelter, and for whom not being able to enjoy wide open spaces in which to run, wander, explore or play causes unimaginable suffering.
The animals enslaved in circuses find themselves held captive, separated from their families, and everything that would make them content. Many undercover investigations have demonstrated that circuses keep animals confined for long periods. Zippos Circus, for example, in the UK have been exposed by Animal Defenders International, for keeping their horses in trailers without exercise for hours on end.
The tricks enjoyed by visitors to the circus are learnt through weeks of intensive training through deprivation and abuse which causes immense suffering and distress to the animals. Aswell as the physical pain caused by the incessant repetition of uncomfortable exercises and beatings by their ‘trainers’, the animals also suffer psychological torment due to the confinement, solitude and forced pairing with conspecifics.
In the wild, elephants, tigers, lions and other animals would never ride a bicycle, nor jump over balls of fire, or balance on plastic balls. In the circus, these tricks are confusing and uncomfortable for the animals who invariably perform against their will because they are afraid of the consequences or are deprived of something that they need, such as food. Workers frequently beat animals in their ‘care’ For example, workers at the notorious Chipperfields Circus have been documented thrashing and kicking a baby chimpanzee and, more recently, Anne the elephant at the Great British circus was documented being kicked and stabbed with a pitchfork by a worker.
Circuses travel thousands of miles between towns for performances. The animals living in the circuses suffer tremendously during these journeys. It has been demonstrated even that during transport, animals such as horses undergo and alteration of many physiological traits that are indicative of stress.
Circus tigers have shown a wide range of abnormal behaviours (coping strategies), whilst travelling, including stereotypic behaviours such as pacing, which increased as transport duration increased.
Many species are known to suffer from ‘capture myopathy’, a syndrome that occurs in wild (free ranging and captive) mammals and birds, and is associated with the stress of capture, restraint and transportation.
The constant moving and changing environmental conditions cause disruption of normal behavioural patterns which are likely to leave animals inherently vulnerable to stress and disease. The only thing the animals know during these journeys are the chains that prevent them from moving, and the cages in which they eat, drink and sleep. Sometimes the compartments in which they travel don’t even cover their minimum needs. The lack of ventilation, food and/or water and of veterinary care makes these journeys, which can last several weeks, into genuine nightmares.
Due to the lack of any meaningful exercise, socialising, activity and entertainment afforded to circus animals, these individuals are often victim to serious mental illnesses. Stereotypic behaviour, also termed "zoochosis", such as pacing, swaying from side to side, self-mutilation and bar biting are only some of the stereotypies observed in circuses.
A range of physical injuries and illnesses have also been observed in circus animals. These include lions suffering joint problems, horses with hoof problems, injuries from chains, cage doors and bars, injuries from abusive workers or conspecifics, infections and lameness.
Elephants commonly get arthritis from standing in chains on concrete and performing unnatural tricks.
Many circus animals are killed or abandoned when they become too old or ill to perform. Alternatively, they will be sold on to other circuses, private exotic animal collections and even to laboratories for research. Generally they end their lives in a way just as sad as they lived them: in reclusion, under coercion and in misery.
In many countries, such as Bolivia, Greece and Austria, animal circuses are illegal and, with your help, it is possible that circuses that exploit animals will become relics of the past. Firstly we should show our rejection to the use of animals in entertainment by not visiting animal circuses and encouraging our friends and family to do the same. It is also necessary for us to oppose speciesism of all kinds, informing people about why we respect other animals and support organisations like ours.