Circus Acts That Use Wild Cats Should be Banned
After four years of petitioning by the public, on Jun 23, 2011 Members of Parliament have defied the government and backed a ban on wild animals being used in circuses in England after a heated debate in Parliament. The motion is not binding on the government but will increase pressure on ministers to act over the issue. Downing Street said the government would “recognise the will of the House”. Now that the rest of the modern world has banned wild animals in circus acts, it is high time circuses that use wild animals in the U.S. were banned.
Big Cat Rescue does something called Operant Conditioning to teach our cats to do things we need them to do for medical reasons, such as lean against the fence to get their shots or open their mouth so we can look at their teeth. We do this with rewards and the cats have fun because they are smart and bored and love the attention. We never punish or withhold food to make them do something, and the cats only do it when they want to – not on our schedule.
But because tigers and lions in circus acts must perform specific acts at precise times and “the show must go on,” positive reinforcement is not the only method used by circus trainers or night club magicians. Often the cats are beaten, starved and confined for long periods of time in order to get them to cooperate with what the trainers want. And life on the road means that most of a cat’s life is spent in a circus wagon in the back of a semi-truck or in a crowded, stinking box car on a train or barge.
The messages the public gets from circus acts couldn’t be worse. These acts either show man dominating one of nature’s most magnificent creatures, which would never happen on an even playing field, or worse are promoted as illustrations of the “special bond” the trainer has with his captive. The latter just fuels the trade in big cats as pets and that never ends well for the cat.
Last, but not least, circus acts are transient and often are a way of moving big cats across state lines or even in and out of the country. Because the endangered species protection acts are so poorly enforced, this transience creates a legal cover for the illegal importation and exportation of exotic cats. If a circus act leaves the U.S. with 10 tigers and comes back with 25, they can just say that the 15 additional tigers were born on the road – there is no way to prove it if they were taken from the wild. No U.S. government agency tracks the ages nor the individual cats in private collections.
You can help stop the poaching and the abuse by just Saying NO to the circus.
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By Kerry Ashmore , The Northeaster
Numerous thorny issues cloud the debate over how humans treat animals. One issue coming quickly to Minneapolis, however, has a clear and easy correct answer. We urge Minneapolis City Council members to ban wild animal circus performances in the city.
This will not require all of us to become vegetarians. It won’t ban laboratory research. It won’t be a death sentence for any animal that bites a human. Minneapolis taxpayers would simply be refusing to allow people to make money in the city through capturing and training wild animals, and would be foregoing any money the city and local businesses might make if the circus came to town.
This issue is similar to some other thorny issues, however, in that many people will oppose the ban because they don’t want to believe that circuses are necessarily cruel to animals. To support the ban, they would have to admit that the whole concept of capturing and training wild animals for human entertainment and enrichment is, and always has been, wrong; and that they have been wrong for not doing everything they could to ban the practice decades ago. Who wants to admit to something like that?
Our advice to them: Deal with it.
Yes, we humans have been wrong all along, and this is a baby step toward making things right.
Those who don’t want the ban will be quick to point to violent and illegal acts people have committed in the name of ending animal cruelty, and suggest that seeking to end animal cruelty somehow indicates that one condones such acts. That simply doesn’t pass the common sense test, and those who bring such incidents into the discussion are essentially admitting that they can’t come up with a reasonable defense for the way animals are treated in a circus setting. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because there is no reasonable defense for it.
Some local people will lose some money if the ban is passed. Circus people stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants and spend money in local stores. Our wise and resourceful officials can replace the circus with other events that don’t cause us to support unconscionable acts toward beings who, because of human intervention, are no longer able to defend themselves.
Humans, with complete freedom of movement and superior reasoning capability, grow weary of “life on the road,” and with good reason. Circus animals are caged and moved from town to town, forced to perform unnatural acts and then caged and moved to yet another town for yet another performance. The best efforts of the most kind- hearted people in the world cannot make this process humane. It is cruel by its nature.
It’s unlikely that the circus people think that what they’re doing is inhumane. It’s only when city after city after city closes its doors that they will ask, “Why?” and perhaps begin to have second thoughts about the way animals have to be treated if they are to provide money-making entertainment to humans.
When and if our society becomes truly civilized, such entertainment will be banned entirely. Those animal-protection laws don’t exist now, and there isn’t a legal way to stop circus use of animals.
Minneapolis, however, has a chance to take one simple, straightforward action, and become the 29th American city to close its doors to wild animal circuses. It’s an action Minneapolis council members should take without delay, without regret and without dissent.
For the love of animals, avoid the circus
By DUNCAN STRAUSS
Special to The Post
Sunday, December 23, 2007
On Wednesday, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus lumbers into the South Florida Fairgrounds Expo Center in Palm Beach County for 12 performances. To those considering stepping into the big top to attend one of these shows, I offer this polite request:
Who am I – some animal-hating killjoy out to spoil your fun? Far from it. I’m a father, a pretty passionate animal lover and, not coincidentally, I host a radio program about animals that airs on Tampa National Public Radio affiliate WMNF.
I do not claim to be a renowned animal expert. But over the years, I’ve done a great deal of research into an array of animal matters. In hosting the show, I’ve had the good fortune to interview a number of renowned animal experts, experiences that have yielded one indisputable conclusion:
Animals in circuses endure a relentlessly awful life, marked by constant travel in cramped quarters, where access to food and water and proper veterinary care can’t always be counted on, but punishment, pain, cruelty and, sometimes, premature death can be.
Hyperbole? Hardly. Any unit of Ringling Bros. is on the road for six to 11 months at a time, typically traveling in small train cars or trucks that are often poorly ventilated and/or lack basic creature comforts.
But the travails of transportation practically seem glorious alongside the covert and overt cruelty of the training that prepares – if that’s the right word – these animals to perform in “the greatest show on Earth.” Allow me to pose two related rhetorical questions:
Do you think that tigers – who, like most animals, are deathly afraid of fire – would be naturally inclined to jump through a ring of fire?
Do you think that elephants would be naturally inclined to balance on a colorful perch, stand on their hind legs or heads, or dance?
The answer, of course, is a resounding “No.” So, to achieve the sort of unnatural and physically challenging behaviors described above and others, the training is fear-driven, revolving around punishing and hurting the animals: whipping them, beating them with rods, etc.
Elephants often are restrained, then beaten until they understand not to fight back. The chief tool of the elephant training trade is the bull hook, or ankus, which is heavy and clublike and has a pointy, sharp tip. Imagine a heavy and sharp fireplace poker. The trainers hit the elephants with the bull hook in various parts of their body, so that they comply – “learn.”
Sounds too horrendous to believe, doesn’t it? But there is plenty of testimony by former Ringling employees that says as much, and lots of video that shows as much – some of it as new as this year. To see an extensive array of germane video footage in less than eight minutes, you could hardly do better than watching the award-winning piece on Ringling and its abuse of Asian elephants by television journalist Leslie Griffith, who has won nine local Emmys and two Edward R. Murrow Awards, It’s at www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3rQzLOLR4M.
Keen observers of Ms. Griffith’s work will notice that it’s from 2004, and might reasonably wonder whether Ringling has improved its treatment of animals.
In October 2006, Robert Tom, a former animal keeper who worked for Ringling for nearly two years (his wife, Margaret, also was employed by the circus) issued a notarized declaration – six pages of hair-raising accounts of animal neglect, abuse and cruelty in and around the big top.
Mr. Tom’s experiences echo those of Archele Faye Hundley, a young mother of five, who worked as part of the animal crew. Her lengthy September 2006 notarized declaration, notes: “I quit the circus because the animal abuse was too upsetting. The abuse was not once in awhile, it occurred every day.”
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, along with three other not-for-profit animal welfare organizations – The Fund For Animals, Animal Welfare Institute and Animal Protection Institute – are in the midst of litigation, under the Federal Endangered Species Act, against Ringling. The allegations detail the routine abuse and neglect of Asian elephants. The groups are joined in the lawsuit by a former Ringling employee, Tom Rider, who worked as a barn man for the elephants for 21/2 years, and is featured in the Griffith piece.
I digress here briefly for a prediction: Ringling owner Kenneth Feld surely will dispatch someone to respond to this piece – could be an official employee or maybe someone in the guise of a Ringling fan writing a letter to the editor – to dismiss these contentions as the ravings of a misinformed loon.
There will be rosy scenarios offered about their training, about their “conservation efforts” (their Center for Elephant Conservation is little more than a facility to restock the touring units with fresh pachyderms), about how great their animals are treated, etc. There are millions of dollars at stake, and elephants are the prime drawing cards, so when someone is critical of the operation, Mr. Feld and his fellow Ringling panjandrums typically mobilize quickly. And they’ll say anything.
Nonetheless, let’s just say, for the sake of ludicrous argument, that nothing untoward is visited on elephants in the course of their big top training. They’re still forced to travel in those train cars or trucks to perform up to three shows a day and to spend most of their non-performance time anchored by leg chains.
Let me hasten to add that I’m not at all universally opposed to circuses, just those that use animals. There are numerous animal-free circuses – perhaps the most famous is Cirque du Soleil, but the last list I saw featured more than 20 such outfits.
If your family has a hankering to see a circus, go to one of those. But attending a Ringling performance is tantamount to endorsing animal abuse.
Trained by pain
Circuses force animals to perform tricks that have nothing to do with how these magnificent creatures behave in the wild. These unnatural acts range from a tiger jumping through a flaming hoop to bears riding bicycles. Animals are sometimes injured while performing: tigers, who naturally fear fire, have been burned jumping through flaming hoops.
Training animals to perform acts that are sometimes painful or that they do not understand requires whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods and other tools. Circuses claim to use “positive reinforcement” and to base their tricks on behaviors that animals carry out naturally. If this were true, however, the trainers would be carrying bags of food treats, not a metal weapon.
An end to animal circuses doesn’t mean an end to fun. There are many circuses that are exciting and entertaining without abusing animals. Cirque du Soleil, The New Pickle Family Circus, Circus Smirkus, Cirque Eloize, Circus Oz and the Mexican National Circus are all wonderful circuses that offer family entertainment using only willing human performers. By supporting animal-free entertainment and boycotting circuses that use animals, we can move towards an end to the use of animals in circuses.
By Christine Coughlin,
Like many grassroots groups, Circus Reform Yes! (CRY!) started with a dream: a dream we had to end the misery of wild animals incarcerated in the circus. Initially we held demonstrations outside of the Target Center when the circus came to town, bearing witness to the animals’ suffering. But we knew more could be done. As a city with vision, we knew that Minneapolis could become the twenty-ninth American city to ban wild animal circuses.
In Europe, hundreds of cities (one hundred and sixty in England alone) and the entire country of Austria have already banned wild animal circuses.
We decided to set up a table and start talking to our fellow Minneapolitans. As we tabled outside of Minneapolis food coops, thousands of people signed postcards to City Council members, urging them to prohibit wild animal circuses. We next took our message to Minneapolis events such as the Gay Pride Festival, the Children’s Expo and the Pet Expo, and the Minnesota Educators Conference.
Every minute we’ve worked (which now totals thousands of hours) is totally volunteer, without exception. Why do we keep going?
|“The chains that hold the elephants captive are
the chains that held my ancestors.”
Elephants, highly intelligent, sensitive beings with strong family bonds, walk over twenty miles a day on their home range. In circuses they are chained up to twenty hours a day. Elephants urinate, defecate and sleep in chains. As the famous civil rights activist Dick Gregory put it so eloquently, “The chains that hold the elephants captive are the chains that held my ancestors.” Each CRY! volunteer remains committed to breaking those chains, and that’s where our inspiration comes from.
How does a one hundred and eighty pound man get a two thousand pound elephant to perform painful, unnatural tricks? With a bullhook, among other implements. Bullhooks are long sticks with sharp metal hooks attached to the end. The elephants are jabbed and prodded in their most sensitive areas, around the ears and mouth. Bullhooks are sharp enough to make them remember, as elephants do, what will happen if they don’t perform the trick right—tricks that often leave them arthritic or crippled for life.
As more people learned about the reality of life for circus animals, our ranks began to grow. We raised money, started a website (www.crymn.org), printed t-shirts, and were able to reach even more people. How did members of the Minneapolis City Council respond when they began receiving hundreds, then thousands of signed postcards, letters, emails and phone calls- all from constituents who want animal circuses to be replaced with animal-free circuses? Some on the Council immediately embraced the issue, some warmed to it, and remarkably, some remain unmoved by the cruelty done to the animals and the concern of their constituents.
If you come hours before the wild animal circus at the Target Center, you’ll see the circus trailer trucks hauling in the elephants. The arena doors open, bringing the elephant truck inside. The doors slam shut. The process is reversed after the shows are over. These circus animals on tour do not see the light of day.
|Imagine what fear has to be drilled into a tiger
to make that tiger jump through a hoop of fire.
Lions and tigers don’t fare any better.
These magnificent animals are kept in cages so small that they can hardly turn around. Imagine what fear has to be drilled into a tiger to make that tiger jump through a hoop of fire. These large cats have a deep fear of fire that protects them in the wild. When a hoop of fire collapsed on a tiger in Coquitlam, British Columbia, in front of schoolchildren, that municipality banned wild animal circuses in a hurry.
People from all over the Twin Cities we met while tabling stopped to tell us how wild animal circuses had impacted them as a child. Some saw the fear in a tiger’s eyes when the whips came out. Others remembered dull eyed, depressed elephants neurotically swaying back and forth. Others, as children, saw nothing wrong, but when they grew up and learned how the animals lived and were trained, their opinion on wild animal circuses changed. I can say with certainty that no child would go a circus if they knew what the animals endured out of sight.
|“…circuses teach children to disregard “the
feelings, the needs, and the rights of other living individuals.”
Confinement in trucks, chains and cages is an enslavement that dishonors our children. Dr. Melvin E. Levine, professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, says that circuses teach children to disregard “the feelings, the needs, and the rights of other living individuals.” We want our children to follow their natural bent away from violence. As citizens of Minneapolis, we are all their teachers.
Is there a public safety risk? Wild animals in circuses endure relentless travel in their own waste, in constant confinement. For naturally free roaming animals, the constant moving in confinement is enough to cause them to go out of control. Wild animals do not cope well with isolation from their social groups and with repeated changes in their territories.
Peggy Larson, D.V.M., who worked with large animals as a USDA inspector said it well, “Circus animals have gone berserk and killed people. Sears, Roebuck and Co. no longer sponsors circuses because of the potential danger to children from the animals, and because of the animal abuse inherent in circuses.” All the injuries and deaths that have occurred in circuses would not have occurred if wild animals were not exhibited for entertainment.
Where will the wild animals go when circuses go the way of the freak show? Excellent sanctuaries such as the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and the Elephant Sanctuary already exist. With patience and kindness caregivers help the animals heal, physically and psychologically.
Drugs and crime are two of the many social problems our city faces. We can and should chip away at these more complex issues. But wild animal circuses could be eliminated in one fell swoop. A City Council “yes” vote on the Animal Protection Amendment would do it. Please urge your council member to join that YES. Open the way for the many wonderful animal-free circuses to come here. It’s time, and it’s in your hands.
Christine Coughlin is the executive director of Circus Reform Yes!
On 8th March, 2006 Department of the Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) Minister Ben Bradshaw told the UK Parliament that certain non-domesticated animals would be banned from travelling circuses under regulations that will follow the Animal Welfare Bill. The Scottish Parliament which is due to pass its own Animal Welfare Bill followed suit two weeks with a similar commitment to a ban.
This follows an intense and incredibly successful campaign from ADI. Even before, the bans were announced the UK circus industry had been shattered by a series of undercover investigations by ADI which saw one circus after another close as the public have turned their back on animal suffering. In less than ten years more than half the animal circuses that once toured the UK and the two biggest suppliers of performing animals in Europe, both based in the UK, have closed.
Despite overwhelming public opinion in support of a ban (65% for a total ban, 80% for a wild animal ban), Defra had resisted, saying as recently as January 2006 that nothing would be banned under the Animal welfare Bill.
In the past few months, ADI has flooded MPs with detailed briefings, DVDs, and reports. ADI amendments to the Animal Welfare Bill calling for a complete ban on animal circuses were debated in Standing Committee and during the Third Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons. MPs have been met with and kept fully informed of the all of the facts.
ADI supporters have written to and called their MPs and the Minister at Defra and thousands of specially printed ADI postcards have been sent to MPs.
This is a huge breakthrough, but ADI is not easing up on the pressure or resting on our laurels. The Animal Welfare Bill is now in the House of Lords and we are continuing to press for measures that would end the suffering of circus animals once and for all.
In April, ADI staged a reception in the House of Lords to enable members of the Lords and Members of Parliament to get the facts about the use of animals in circuses. The event was hosted by Baroness Byford and was also addressed by ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer and Campaigns Director Tim Phillips. The hard hitting ADI DVD “Stop Circus Suffering” was screened and a new report “Animals in Travelling Circuses: the science on suffering” was launched.
The event was also attended by a number of ADI’s celebrity supporters:
- Actress Pam Ferris star from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and TV’s the Darling Buds of May
- TV presenter Wendy Turner Webster
- TV chef Ross Burden
- Jaki Degg voted most popular Sun Page 3 girl, now an actress
- Model Kerri Guiney Donnelly
- Singer Lene Lovich
- Actress Leila Birch from Eastenders
- Actress Liz Smith the hugely popular star from The Vicar of, Emmerdale, The Royle Family, as well as the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-rabbit
Parliamentary support for a complete ban on the use of animals in travelling circuses continues to mount. Over 130 MPs have now signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons calling for an end to the use of animals in travelling circuses and commending ADI on our work to expose the suffering of animals inside the circus industry.
ADI is also calling for urgent donations to help support this vital campaign – please donate online.