Big Top, Big Cruelty


Good Morning, fellow Big Cat supporters! I’d like to share with you an article I’ve written as the new Legislation Intern for Big Cat Rescue! My particular internship is a new one here and was created to further the incredibly important big cat welfare legislation we are constantly working on! Please keep your eye out for the articles and blogs I will share to keep you in the know about one of the most important that Big Cat does and how you can help us end the trade and save the cats!!!

Big Top, Big Cruelty

by Jessica James


Who can forget the thrill of your first circus? Consider the sweet smell of popcorn in the air and the sound of the ringmaster calling to you in the distance. He promised you death-defying feats and to behold exotic wonders. Who can forget the excitement that you felt your ticket clutched tightly in hand, overwhelmed by scents and sounds that were foreign to you in your everyday life? Though there were fearless tightrope walkers, inhumanely flexible acrobats and comical clowns what we were all craning our necks to see were the performing animal acts. How could we know, in our tender adolescence, of the cruelty that happened after the lights turned off and the big top came down.

Hollywood bans circusSo many myths surround the circus. Myths propagated by organizations that force animals to engage in unnatural acts and exploit them for profit. How often have we heard the following:

  • “Circus animals perform tricks for enjoyment and out of love for their trainers.”

In reality, circuses use a plethora of cruel training methods on their animals. Often they are beaten, restrained or deprived of food until they perform a trick satisfactorily.

  • “The circus is wholesome family fun and completely safe for both the animals and your children.”

The truth is that the circus is an incredibly dangerous place not only for the animals, but for the trainers and the audience as well. These wild animals can be very unpredictable. In the past decade there have been over 40 violent circus incidents, including one where a trainer was dragged helpless around the ring in the jaws of a tiger in front of 200 terrified children.

  • “In between shows the animals rest comfortably in regulation sized enclosures.”

Unfortunately, this couldn’t be any more misleading. Animals are locked in small cages and shipped from town to town on freight cars with no heat or air conditioning. They often suffer from heat exhaustion and severe dehydration due to lack of access to ventilation and water.

  • “Circuses are working hard to conserve species and educate the public.”

Many circuses falsely claim to be conserving a species when in fact none of the animals they breed are ever put back into the wild. These animals simply end up in the circus trade until they are too old to perform and are then relegated to a life of breeding or are sold off or traded when their performing skills are no longer up to par. In addition to that, the circus does nothing to educate people on the natural history or behaviors of these animals. Watching wild animals perform unnatural tricks such as balancing on balls and jumping through hoops of fire doesn’t teach the public anything about animals in the wild. What we are being told is that animals are merely props that are here to entertain us. 

  • “There are well, enforced laws that protect these animals from abuse or neglect. “

The United States Department of Agriculture does have regulations meant to protect performing wildlife, but these are very poorly enforced and the punishments for not adhering to their standards are minimal. Even habitual offenders of the worst kind are very rarely prosecuted.

Animals suffer the worst kinds of emotional and physical abuse during their lifetime as circus performers. The physical abuse often includes punishments so severe that it is literally crippling. Past trainers have remarked on the use of bull hooks and other forms of “training” methods. They have gone on record admitting elephants are struck repeatedly with a bull hook and that they see “hook boils”-these are infections caused by the bull hook wounds- on an average of twice a week. Not only does this happen during training, but also during shows. Patrons have reported seeing the performing elephants bleeding all over the floor of the stage after being beaten with the bull hook over and over again during a performance.

Many of the most horrific circus incidents have been publicized, however there are dangers that we are completely unaware of. The sharp claws, and bone crushing jaws of the lion are a clear threat to human life, but just as deadly are the dangers of zoonotic diseases that remain unknown to the public and undiscussed by the media. These are diseases carried within animals that are communicable to humans. A group of circus elephants were tested and found positive for TB (tuberculosis). Of the 22 elephant handlers that were tested, 11 were found to be positive. The Journal of Internal Medicine reported that an estimated 50 million people worldwide had been infected with zoonotic diseases between the years of 2000 and 2007 and as many as 78,000 people died as a result of those illnesses. Not every danger of these wild animals is easily identifiable to the eye.

Currently 38 countries have circus bans and sadly the United States is not among them. We remain a nation proud of our incredible progress, be it scientific or humanitarian and yet still we have animals suffering for a form of amusement that has outlived its entertainment value. Philanthropist and television personality Bob Barker has said “Big, wild animals should not be part of the traveling circus and simply put, animal acts in circuses are antiquated and belong in the past, in a time when humans were ignorant about the needs of other species who share our planet.” As modern Americans we have the ability to educate ourselves and learn from the mistakes of those who came before us in order to set our future generations on the path towards becoming a kinder, more socially aware nation.

“Do the best you can until you know better, and when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *