The Context:

  • The modern circus arose in the early 19th century, beginning with equestrian and acrobatic acts. A circus first claimed to have tamed wild animals in 1820. In 1851 the American, George Bailey, added a menagerie, including elephants, to his show. Flying trapeze artists, clowns, and a live orchestra rounded out the fledgling circus. In 1871 a human “freak” show was added.
  • Although human freak shows have disappeared, animal circuses otherwise continue relatively unchanged.
  • Animals in circuses are still deprived of their basic needs to exercise, roam, socialize, forage, and play.
  • South Africa currently has two circuses that make use of performing animals in their acts:  Mclaren Circus (wild and domestic animals) and Circus Royal (domestic animals)
  • Today, over 50 countries world-wide have bans or restrictions on the use of wild animals in circuses.
  • The international trend in circus entertainment has been shifting away from the use of animals, as evidenced by the hugely successful Cirque du Soleil. This Montreal-based circus, founded by two street performers in 1984, features only human performers and now has as many as 15 shows running simultaneously around the world.

The Facts:

  • Animals do not choose to perform.  They will not jump through hoops, dance, sit on chairs, and walk upright on their back legs because they want to. They do this because they have no choice and are afraid of what will happen if they don’t perform.
  • Circus animal training methods are questionable.  Training always happens out of the public eye.  Although most circuses will claim to train using positive reinforcement methods, in reality, training is often based on a system of intimidation, reward and punishment - which can even mean the withholding of food and water.
  • Even domesticated animals like dogs, ponies and horses are expected to perform every day on demand for financial gain, something we would never expect of our pets.
  • Most animals have intricate social systems and spend time with their own kind, just like humans do. Locking them in cages, keeping them in small rest enclosures or in unfamiliar groups, is cruel and inhumane.
  • Most circuses claim that the animals are captive born and not torn from their natural habitats. However, captive born does not mean domesticated.  Animals in captivity do not lose their natural instincts. They all have the need to express their natural behaviours.
  • Animals in captivity become frustrated and suffer extreme stress, depression and boredom.  This is exhibited by repetitive behavior such as pacing up and down, head-bobbing, rocking and swaying. Sometimes they snap and lash out at humans. There are many examples worldwide of humans being injured and even killed when this happens. In recent times, in South Africa alone:
  • In 2001, a handler was killed by a circus Elephant on a film set in Broederstroom. Fiso Mbambo, 23, the Elephant’s handler for three years, was killed while walking through the veld with five fellow handlers. The Elephant was one of seven Elephants being used as background animals for the video filming of Olie.
  • In August 2014, at Rietfontein, Johannesburg, a circus worker sustained severe bite wounds and lacerations to his neck and chest when a Tiger escaped and attacked him.
  • In 2013, at Port Elizabeth, an alligator escaped from the circus enclosure.
  • Circus animals travel long distances in cramped cages for most of the year.  The animals are confined to their trailers and tiny enclosures whilst the circus is in a town. Circus animals spend most of their time in these trailers, the sizes of which are not even acceptable by zoo standards.
  • Animal Circuses are not educational.  Children are only taught that animals are commodities to be used for fun and entertainment.  Children learn nothing about the needs or natural behaviour of animals.
  • Animals in circuses often suffer injuries related to their constant confinement and performing unnatural tricks that their bodies were not designed for.
  • Animals have their own intelligence and emotions, and they think, feel and suffer. Imagine if you had to spend your whole life locked in a cage, and only being let out to perform silly tricks?
  • Animals in circuses suffer a life-time of misery for your few minutes of entertainment. When they are no longer able to perform, they are generally not retired to happy places.  They are often sold off to zoos and animal traders of questionable ethics. Their suffering only ends when they die.
  • The circus says they love their animals.  They will say the animals are in good health and that they always have food, water and shelter. Don’t be fooled, this is exactly how it should be.  The SPCA would remove the animals if the minimum animal welfare requirements were not met.  The SPCA can only act within the confines of the Animals’ Protection Act (APA) and the Performing Animal Protection Act.  The APA is out of date and need to be amended to accommodate much more than the minimum welfare requirements.
  • The NSPCA does not support circuses that use wild animals as entertainment.

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