Greatest Show on Earth? Not for the Stars of the Show. New Law to Protect the Well-Being of Circus Animals

circus-circusImagine for a moment, a large metal dog crate, one that could hold a German Shepherd or a Great Dane.  Climb inside.  What do you think?  Comfortable?  Sure.  OK, make yourself at home.  Take a load off, have a seat.  Sir for an hour.  Or ten.  Oh yea, imagine the crate’s outside.  Now how do you feel?  Are you hungry?  Do you want to stretch your legs?  What about the bathroom?  Do you need to use it?  Are you hot?  Cold?  Have your feet fallen asleep yet? 

What’s unfortunate is that this example, although easy to imagine, is one that gets repeated on a daily basis for the wild and exotic animals that perform in traveling circuses.  Animals that normally travel almost 25 miles a day by foot in their natural habitat are kept cramped in cages like the one described above for up to 48 out of the 52 weeks in a year in conditions that are uncomfortable at best, dirty, unsafe, and basically just not right at all.

All of this is about to change though.  On Wednesday, November 2, 2011 a new bill was introduced to Congress that will greatly alter the inclusion of animals in U.S. traveling circuses.  Former Price is Right host and animal advocate, Bob Barker, was instrumental in introducing The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act (TEAPA) on Capitol Hill.  Other supporters included CSI actress Jorja Fox, Animal Defenders International, and the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) who all aided Congressman Jim Moran in initiating the bill into action.

Details of the bill are meant to protect and prevent the most dangerous of situations for wild and exotic traveling animals but if the bill gets passed, animals will not be allowed to perform if they have been traveling in temporary shelters for the 15 days before they are to go on stage.  The goal of the TEAPA bill though is to fully exclude current wild and exotic animals from any of their performing ‘duties’ and to eliminate any future use of new animals from U.S. traveling circuses.  You can read the full bill here.  

During the introduction of the bill to Congress, Congressman Moran, who in addition to Bob Barker, has been a long time animal supporter and who co-chairs the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, talked about the great costs, both mental and physical, that destroy the well-being of the animals that are forced to travel with these circuses.  He stated that animals are kept in conditions that are not only unsanitary but unsafe for both the animals and the trainers.  Eye-witness reports, both those of bystanders, former circus workers, and planted investigative workers tell us that animals are treated with electric shock, prodded with a device called an elephant hook or ankus, forced to move (or not move) with weighted ropes and whips and prevented from eating with the use of muzzles and tight ropes that restrict the animal’s movement.

Bob Barker went on to say that the animals that are affected the most by living in captivity are naturally the larger animals.  On a typical day a tiger can traverse 2,000 square miles.  The average human walks 2-3 miles per day.  Think about how you felt imagining yourself in that dog crate for ten hours.  Now think about how the tiger feels when he travels a path 1000x longer than yours on a daily basis.  These animals are kept in confined quarters that don’t even begin to resemble an acceptable level of comfort and then forced to do behaviors that are so wildly unnatural to them it’s difficult to even describe.  Unlike domestic animals like cats and dogs who easily learn tricks and may even get some enjoyment out of doing them (or at least in the bone or can of tuna they get after completing the trick), wild and exotic animals get no such pleasure.  They often don’t know what they’re even doing and instead of operating on the same principles of positive reinforcement, their trainers use force and violence to get them to turn tricks and various ‘feats of wonder’ that are foreign and go against their normal instincts.  Although one would never know by watching a traditional traveling circus show, tigers are terrified of fire and yet for many shows one of the bigger acts involve tigers jumping through giant rings exploding with vicious flames.  The tigers emerge horrified and physically burned because they don’t know what to do around the fire but are forced to go near it.   

Although the Vice President of Corporate Communicates for Feld Entertainment, which produces the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, responded to the introduction of the bill by saying that “this bill doesn’t do anything to improve animal care.  We’re the experts on taking care of our animals; we’ve been doing it for over 140 years” it is apparent from previous documented accounts that the Circus’s animals are not treated well at all and do fall victim to many of the torturous techniques described earlier in this article.  Viewer beware, but you can see for yourself the cruel and unusual punishment circus animals undergo in order to prepare and perform at a show.

This law comes at a time when the American public is finally beginning to realize that Circuses are not the happy, wholesome family show they appear to be.  In a recent poll conducted in the UK, results showed that 72% of people believed that animals should be banned from performing in shows.  Governments in other countries across the world such as Austria, Costa Rica, Israel, and China have all already instituted such bans.  Although the PEATA bill will not include stationary exhibits such as zoos and places like Sea World, it is a great first step in confronting a long ignored problem.  Experts believe that the bill will likely pass and will hopefully become a stepping stone to future legislation that will help to end all forms of animal cruelty exhibits and shows that masquerade as educational and lighthearted entertainment.

Photo credit: flic.kr/p/ARRNC

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