Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Life Without Parole

     Circuses are one of the oldest forms of entertainment, romanticized and glorified pro­moters painted a rosy picture. Many a child dreamt of running away and joining the circus, it is a safe bet that most circus animals dream of running away from the circus. Ironically, people go to the circus because they love animals; what they don’t realize is they are supporting an industry that engages in animal cruelty.
     Life for a circus animal is harsh and demanding. Even though some circuses are better than others at caring for their animals, no circus can ever provide an acceptable way of life for an animal. Hours, even days are spent traveling, no matter how well-managed the traveling arrangements are; confinement, lack of adequate food and water and restriction of movement are inevitable. Since circuses are constantly traveling from town to town, access to basic necessities such as correct dietary requirements, and veterinary care is often inadequate or unavailable.
     The animals, many of which are rather large and naturally active, are forced to spend most of their lives in the small bleak cages used to transport them, where they have only enough room to stand and turn around. For security reasons most are only allowed out of their cages during the short periods of training and when they must perform. Animals, like elephants, are kept in leg shackles that only allow them to lift one foot at a time.
     Animals used in circuses often times out of convenience, are kept in travel crates, and some are even kept in trucks. Investigators witnessed elephants chained for 70 percent of the day, horses confined for 23 hours a day, and big cats kept in cages up to 99 percent of the time. Such continuous physical confinement not only has harmful physical side effects on the animals but psychological as well.
     These effects may be very subtle at first, unnatural behaviors such as repeated head-bobbing, swaying, and pacing. Over time the animal often "snaps" and that is when the circus makes the news. "Elephant kills trainer and injured 13 others before being shot to death by police."
     The tricks that animals are forced to perform, bears balancing on balls, monkeys or chimps riding tricycles, elephants standing on two legs, are physically uncomfortable and totally unnatural behavior. These performances teach the audiences nothing about natural wildlife behavior or how they survive in their natural habitat.
     Animals do not naturally ride bicycles, wear a tutu and ribbons and dance in a circle, balance on balls, or jump through rings of fire, etc. The colorful pageantry disguises the fact that animals used in circuses are merely captives who are forced, under threat of punishment, to perform confusing, uncomfortable, repetitious acts. Circuses would quickly lose their appeal if more people knew about the cruel methods used to train the animals; the cramped confinement, unacceptable travel conditions, and poor treatment that they endure; and what happens to them when they are no longer profitable to the circus.
     Many are realizing the time has come to end this archaic form of entertainment. As more people become aware of the cruelty involved in forcing wild animals to perform, and the inhumane conditions in which they are forced to survive, circuses that exploit animals are finding fewer places to set up their big tops. The use of animals in entertainment are being restricted or banned, in several U.S. localities, such as South Carolina and Orange County and Pasadena, California. Other cities around the world are following suit like New Delhi, Belfast, and Rio de Janeiro. Recognizing that circuses are unsuitable environments for animals, 36 councils around Australia have passed laws banning circuses with animals from council controlled land. 
     Australian Capital Territory in 1992 made it illegal to confine exotic animals in circuses. Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland, and Singapore have all banned or restricted the use of animals in entertainment. The council of the Chester-le-Street district in the U.K. banned events in which animals perform, labeling them as a relic of a bygone era.
     Let’s applaud the trapeze artists, jugglers, flame throwers, clowns, tightrope walkers, and acrobats, even the fat lady, but let’s leave animals out.