The Truth About Zoos and Circuses
Margaret Castleberry • October 25, 2012 •
Elephants are often seen as emblems of the exotic. Their distinctive appearance and towering size set them apart from other animals and to Westerners especially, they are intriguing. Often, we think the first step to admiring these regal mammals is to take a trip to the zoo or the circus. We would like to think that animals in zoos are comfortable, happy, and in their own elements. We may have romantic notions that circus animals are content to perform and enjoy pleasing the audience just like a human actor or actress. But, once we look behind the scenes, the truth is something very different and very sad. It’s something that must change if we want to live in a society that respects the lives of animals.
Animals Suffer Terribly for our “Education” and Entertainment
Some people say that zoos serve a purpose because they are educational. However, watching elephants inhabiting small, man-made spaces doesn’t teach us anything about elephants in their natural environments. Zoos don’t teach us how to respect or appreciate elephants, nor does it help them in the wild.
Topeka Kansas Zoo on Top 10 Worst Zoos List (2011). Photo courtesy of IDA.
The truth is, animals in zoos and in circuses suffer from conditions that can quickly drive them insane. Even though their quarters may look suitable from a human’s perspective, enclosures are often too small. In particular, elephants in zoos can easily become diseased, obese, and extremely stressed out. Their stress over their limited mobility can result in constant swaying of their heads, called “stereotypic behavior.”
In Defense of Animals (IDA) has published the Top Ten Worst Zoos list on their website, which “exposes the hidden suffering of elephants in zoos, where lack of space, unsuitably cold climates and unnatural conditions condemn Earth’s largest land mammals to lifetimes of deprivation, disease and early death.” The zoos on the list are deemed by IDA to not offer adequate space or appropriate environments for elephants.
Baby elephant being trained by Ringling Brothers. Photo credit: Samual Haddock. Provided courtesy of PETA.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatement of Animals) points out in their circus section that elephants in circuses do not perform because they want to. They perform because they are forced to. During training, they are beaten with bullhooks and shocked to perform tricks. In circuses, elephants are subjected to shockingly poor conditions, including cramped quarters, abuse, and isolation from other elephants. Elephants are extremely social animals just like us humans and being prevented from interacting normally with other elephants is very painful and depressing to them.
What are Alternatives to Circuses and Zoos?
Instead of going to a zoo or animal circus, how about visting a wildlife sanctuary? There are two elephant sanctuaries in the United States: The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) near Sacramento, California and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Only PAWS allows visitors, so you’ll need to plan a trip to come visit!
PAWS Sanctuary. Photo Credit: PAWS.
Injured, sick and abused elephants may come to these sanctuaries to find peace and live in a near-normal situation. The sanctuaries provide the elephants with a safe place to live in wide, open spaces where they can roam, eat, and interact with one another. They are cared for by top veterinarians and are helped by caring volunteers.
PAWS is home to several African and Asian elephants. On this sanctuary, elephants can roam on hundreds of acres and are provided with superb care. PAWS has been active since 1984. Their mission is to provide animals that have suffered through exotic and performing animal trades with a place for peace.
PAWS allows visitors on a limited basis. PAWS hosts a weekend getaway called “Seeing the Elephant” where you and your family can book a one or two day excursion and learn about these majestic animals in their peaceful habitats. PAWS will also be hosting a Holiday Open House on December 8th that is $50 per adult and $25 for kids 12 and under.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is also an excellent sanctuary but it prefers to not allows visitors.
PETA suggests that if you like circuses, there are several animal-free circuses you can enjoy. Cirque du Soleil, the New Pickle Family Circus, and Cirque Éloize are all free of animal acts.
What Can You Do To Help?
There are plenty of other things you can do to help. Has your school scheduled a field trip to the zoo or to a circus? Talk to your teacher to see if you can organize a screening of Juliette’s movie or a trip to an animal shelter instead. There are plenty of alternatives to zoos and circuses!
WATCH THE VIDEO
From PETA’s website: Elephants in Circuses: Training & Tragedy. “This undercover video footage shows Carson & Barnes Circus’ “animal care” director instructing a would-be elephant trainer how to use a sharp, steel-tipped bullhook.”
Filed in: All • Circus • Curriculum • Issue Education • Zoos
Tagged with: circuses • elephants • paws • Sanctuaries • zoos
About the Author (Author Profile)Margaret Castleberry, better known by her middle name Clare, is a freelance writer with a background as a librarian. She has traveled all over Eastern Europe and is visiting elephants in Southeast Asia this December.
As grown-ups we do understand that these are not natural. It is said that God created all living creatures equally but for some reasons humans think that their worth is much more than any other life on earth and they can determine the fate of every other creature according to his own whim and fancy. Animal cruelty is an issue of serious concern, especially when it comes to circuses because no government agency looks after the welfare of animals involved in the circus trade. Every single day these animals that perform so well to entertain the audiences and show no sign of the arduous life that they are forced to lead, are cruelly treated and often not cared for, behind the scenes. It seems that their life is colorful only when they are on stage but once they exit, all the glamour and the lights become dim and the animals re-enters its life of forceful living. Animals are not only kept away from a free life, they are also beaten by their trainers and handlers and kept in miserable conditions. Hence, laws against mistreatment and harsh handling must be issued to protect the animal life and those circus agencies failing to meet the humane standards must be banned from using animals altogether for the sole purpose of entertainment. Circuses would not be a hit if they had solely exhibited domesticated animals; it is the use of exotic wild animals that draws the crowd and these crowd-attractors being undomesticated are subjected to nothing but cruel training and treatments to keep the money coming in. “Non-domesticated animals, suitable for circus life, should exhibit low space requirements, simple social structures, low cognitive function, non-specialist ecological requirements and an ability to be transported without adverse welfare effects. None of the commonest species exhibited by circuses, such as elephants and large felids, currently meet these criteria” (Iossa et al, 2009) yet they are forced into the circus business and subjected to immense cruelty. The first form of animal cruelty is the fact that the circus owners remove the wild animals from their natural habitat and force them to live under unfamiliar and completely alien conditions. Wild animals are confined to living conditions that are nothing but detrimental. In the wild an elephant typically walks 30 – 60 miles per day, but in a circus setup such a thing is impossible (Lydersen, 2007) which is detrimental to their health. The elephants that are used in the circuses have no freedom to take long walks, instead they spend most of the time chained and locked in cramped places. In their research, Price and Stoinski (2007) have confirmed that group sizes have a considerable effect on the “behavior, welfare and reproductive success” of the captive animals. In their research on welfare of carnivores in captivity, Clubb and Mason (2003) determined that constraints on natural behavior like hunting, territory marking etc, the welfare of caged carnivores is compromised. For example, in the wild carnivores hunt for food but in the circus set-up they are provided food hence they lose their hunting instincts. During the off-season when there are no shows the animals are kept in barns, stalls and vehicles. Such bad living conditions effects the animals both physically as well as psychologically. PAWS, in their official website ...Show more