Cruelty to Animals in Circuses
The circus was created by a man named Philip Astley. Astley had served in the seven years war and when he was discharged he decided to imitate the trick- riders. In 1768, he opened up a riding school and had a building that was a circular area which he called the circle, or circus. In 1770 Astley decided his performance needed more novelty and added acrobats, rope-dancers, and jugglers to perform alongside his horse displays. By the late 1700’s there was circuses starting in England, France, Canada and America, but it wasn’t until 1825 that circuses became ‘moving theatres’ and the wooden building was replaced by the canvas tent we see today. This was around the same time Hac Haleigh Bailey purchased a young African elephant which he successfully paraded around the U.S.A.
It is often argued that circuses aren’t an issue, as long as the animals are well cared for. One cannot deny that it wouldn’t be an issue if these animals were well kept but the truth is that these animals aren’t well cared for. However, the animals are facing extreme health effects by having to do wild acts. As a result, many of the animals are dying or facing adverse health effects like obesity, starvation, dehydration, and even death. One of the biggest dangers of circuses is the treatment of the animals. Many elephants face obesity. In the wild, elephants walk up to 30 miles a day. However, in the circus elephants are held in chains daily. Baby elephants starting around one years old are chained up to 23 hours a day. Another big health effect is that many of the animals face starvation and dehydration.
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The trainers call it “operant conditioning” it is what they use to train the tigers and lions. To get the big cats to perform on command, they deprive the animals of food and water to establish dominance. Not only is it just elephants and tigers facing problems but a lot of the animals are crammed into tractor trailers when traveling from venue to venue. These trailers are usually cramped, filthy, sweltering, and poorly ventilated. An elephant named Heather died from heat exhaustion in a tractor trailer. She was found by police officers in a trailer at a hotel parking lot. Heather’s body and 10 living circus animals were removed from the poorly ventilated container and turned over to the custody of the Rio Grande Zoo. Heather was estimated to be around 6 years old and weighed 2,400 pounds, according to zoo officials.
Ideal weight for a healthy elephant her age would have been closer to 4,000 pounds. Opposing views claim that circus animals become adjusted to being held in captivity. Certainly, the animals become accustomed to be tortured if they don’t do what their trainers tell them. However, circus animals often display disturbed behavior which shows how they react badly to being in captivity. Most animals become severely depressed and ‘snap’ when overwhelmed with stress. As a result of the stress sometimes animals can kill trainers or inflict self harm. Many circus animals become depressed and aggressive as a result of the cruel punishment, training, and confinement of boxcars and chains. Some signs of extreme psychological distress in circus elephants include rocking, swaying, head-bobbing, or other repetitive movement.
When elephants are in pain they breath with their mouth open. When large cats and bears are captive they pace back and forth in their cages and some bears have been known to bang their heads against their cages. Another common trait among circus animals is bar biting and self-mutilation and this is directly related to the stress of the circus. Animals don’t just harm themselves when they are stressed they can also hurt trainers. According to the The Straits Times , “On April 7, 2003 in Indonesia, a circus elephant killed its trainer during a bungled stunt in front of hundreds of spectators. The elephant became angry when the trainer attempted to put his head inside the elephant’s mouth. The elephant then stabbed the man with his tusk.” Statistics show that circus animals spend around 96% of their life in chains or in cages, which is a direct correlation to the psychological effects most circus animals have. It is often argued that circuses wouldn’t be entertaining without the animals that are in them.
Of course it is entertaining to see a bear on a unicycle and elephants balance on their head. however, most of these animals suffer physical pain from the uncomfortable acts, and beatings they recieve. As a result of more animals lashing out from these difficult stunts, some circuses are starting to be animal-free. Most animals don’t ride bicycles in the wild, or balance on balls, and tigers definitely jump through fire because they are actually scared of fire. It is very difficult and confusing for these animals since their bodies aren’t made for them to stand on their own head or ride a bike because they wouldn’t do that naturally in the wild. But these animals have to perform because they are scared of the consequences of being deprived of food and water, or being beaten.
For example, the newspaper The Virginian-Pilot states that “A handler with Sterling and Reid circus faces animal cruelty charges after being accused of beating an elephant resulting in bloody lacerations on the animal.” As a result of costly legal battles many circuses are shutting down, like the ringling brothers, and a new circus is coming to town and they don’t use animals. Animal-free circuses have all the fun and thrills of a regular circus but none of the cruelty towards the animals. Instead of seeing depressed elephants, tigers, and many other animals who go through beatings and are forced to perform, you see talented people. There are tightrope walkers, trapeze artists, jugglers, clowns, contortionists, acrobats, fire-eaters, musicians, dancers. Some of the animal- free circuses include Cirque du Soleil, Circus Vargas,Cirque Eloize, Wanderlust Circus, Cirque Productions. All of these circuses include death defying stunts that keep many of the edges of their seats without an animal in site.