Animals Have No Home In The Circus

Michael Schwartz

Humans would not enjoy entertainment at the expense of fellow humans torture and pain, so why should we allow the expense to be paid by the animals we love? In 1941, Disney produced an instant classic in the film Dumbo, which follows the life of an elephant who was taken away from the family he had known to perform as a circus elephant. Originally depicted as a cartoon, to perhaps lessen the depressed nature behind an animals life in a circus ring, the live action film produced in 2019 rings in a truer portrait of a mournful existence. The upbringing, training, and use of animals for the circus is an inhumane and barbaric practice that must be discontinued swiftly and immediately. The treatment which the animals are receiving on a daily basis in no way justifies any monetary or entertainment ends. This is a call for the banning of animal circuses.

            Before any performance takes place, every single animal, whether it be a tiger, elephant, monkey, or any other animal must undergo months of grueling training before they enter the ring. What does this training entail? Let’s start with the case of the elephants in training. A common practice in the field is to use bullhooks on these friendly giants. A bullhook is a long pole that has a sharp hook attached at the end. These hooks dig into the elephant’s sensitive flesh (usually used right behind the ears or ankles) causing extreme pain for the animal. Another cruel tactic used for almost all of the animals is a whip. The skin-crawling lashing is used merely for letting the animals know of what punishment awaits them if they do not quickly learn their stunts or behave in a manner according to the circus’s liking. Though it is not a competition, the most horrific allowance under the Animal Welfare Act is the allowed use of electric prods when training animals. The use of electric prods has drawn the attention of Dr. Temple Grandin, animal behaviourist, in the past. Not only do the electric prods create immense physical pain on contact, but they also “impair the animals’ immune system, stop weight gain, damage rumen function and reduce reproductive ability. Animals that are handled roughly and become excited or frightened will remember their experience and be much harder to handle the next time. Their level of anxiety or stress when entering the handling facility will be higher due to their memory of previous experiences.” The physical abuse circus animals take on a daily basis is well documented, but unfortunately, it is not the only method of torture they are dealing with. Coupling their physical mistreatment with their mental damages, circus animals are constantly left in a state of despair.

   A large percentage of the animals used in the circuses have been captured from their native habitats from very young ages. This theft and displacement places a distinctly different quality of life for all of the animals. Take primates as an example. Baboons, chimpanzees, spider monkeys, and other primates who are taken from their homes and placed into small, cramped cages live a life that is a stark contrast to what they were used to. Primates are widely known for living in close-knit communities, who live, travel, and communicate together, usually in large numbers. What is also known is the physiological horrors that animals must embrace when they are facing captivity. The tight housing of the animals, which is even seen in the off-season of the circuses, lead to unnatural forms of behavior such as repeated head-bobbing, swaying, and pacing. Pacing is when an animal appears to be a “trance” as it continuously moves in the same motion over and over again. What is particularly saddening about this aspect is that the animals once used pacing as a means of stretching, exercising, and enjoying their day. But now, they are forced to barely shift around in their small cages, only furthering their anxieties and reminding them of the freedoms they once had. Another unfortunate habit the animals can develop is sham-chewing, which is the repetitive movement of the jaw, sham-chewing is another self-directed, deprivation stereotype and is commonly shown in sows kept in gestation crates.

In a fight to disband any circuses that benefits off of and continues the use of animals, it is essential to spread the awareness of the ongoings behind the scenes of these spectacles. Though the thought of the treatment of these poor animals brings in emotions of despair, it is encouraging to know that there is a wave of momentum on our side. The use of animals in entertainment has already been restricted or banned in cities across the U.S. and in countries worldwide. For instance, Bolivia, Greece, Israel, Peru, and Sweden have banned the use of all animals in circuses, and Britain has prohibited the use of wild animals in traveling circuses. There are a variety of options for wonderful, animal-free circuses, such as the famous Cirque Du Soleil. The captivation, and training of animals for our entertainment purposes is a barbaric tactic that has been shown to no longer be necessary. With action already being taken, it is vital to continue the momentum and not cease our hope of freeing animals from their torturers.

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