By RANDI TYLER/Montana State News
Elephants standing on two feet, tigers jumping through rings of fire and bears dancing and riding bikes. Sound like a good show? Some would say no. Many animal rights activists are outraged over the treatment that these animals receive when working in the circus.
“The animals are not trained with kindness,” says Jill Beaver, a British Columbia, Canada, resident who tore down signs advertising the Jordan World Circus when it came to town. “You can’t go [to these shows] and pretend the animals are enjoying themselves.”
According to the Animal Rights Florida website, an undercover investigator caught elephant trainer Tim Frisco on film electro-shocking the elephants that he trained. The most popular training tool used on elephants is called the bullhook, which is a sharp, pointed hook that is used to jab the elephants in sensitive areas, sometimes making them bleed.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) agree that the ways in which trainers make their animals obey is terrifying and brutal. The PETA website states that because the training sessions are not monitored by any government agency, circuses can get away with this abuse. PETA has undercover video footage of elephants being beaten with the bullhook and shocked with electric prods, tigers and lions being dragged by heavy chains around their necks and being hit with sticks, bears being wacked and prodded with long poles, and chimpanzees being kicked and hit with riding crops. They claim they have even documented Carson and Barnes trainers using blowtorches on elephants.
It is not only in the training sessions that activists claim these animals are being abused. Throughout the traveling process, these large animals are confined and chained up for hours.
The Animals Rights Florida website states, “Most circuses are on the road for weeks at a time. While traveling, elephants are kept chained in trucks or railroad cars. Tigers, bears and monkeys in the circus are transported in barren, cramped cages. These animals are forced to eat, drink, urinate, and defecate within their enclosures.”
In 2004, a young lion named Clyde died while the Ringling Bros. Circus was traveling through the Mojave Desert due to a hot and poorly ventilated boxcar. Temperatures in the Mojave Desert often reach at least 100 degrees.
According to PETA, “Clyde likely died a miserable death from heatstroke and dehydration.”
Before this incident, two tigers with the Ringling Bros. injured themselves while trying to escape from their cages in an overheated box car.
Because of their captivity and confinement, it is not unusual to see circus animals displaying neurotic behavior, like swaying back and forth, head-bobbing and cage pacing, according to the activists.
Sources say that sometimes the animals lash out, which puts the trainer, and sometimes even the public, in danger. According to the Animal Rights Florida website, since 1990, there have been 13 human fatalities and over 100 people have been injured in incidents involving captive elephants in the U.S. In 1992, an elephant named Janet, performing in the Great American Circus in Palm Bay, Fla., became enraged and ran out of the circus tent with five kids riding on her back. The only way to bring the elephant down was to shoot it. A dozen onlookers were also injured. One of the police officers on the scene, Blayne Doyle, was quoted, saying, “I think these elephants are trying to tell us that zoos and circuses are not what God created them for. But we have not been listening.”
PETA cites another incident that happened two years later in which an elephant named Tyke killed her trainer and injured 12 spectators while at a circus in Honolulu, Hawaii. Tyke was shot over 100 times.
However, these circuses are not staying silent. They are protesting the things said about their treatment of animals. The Ringling Bros. say that there is no other way to keep the animals under control than the tools that they use. The Jordan World Circus says that they mostly have good feedback and, as of 2009, there had been no cancellations of any of their circuses. Others ask what the difference is between the tools the circuses use and the tools that horseback riders use to keep their animals under control, such as spurs.
Circuses are part of American entertainment tradition and many would be reluctant to lose that excitement. As for now, animal rights activists are encouraging people to attend circuses that do not have animals in their acts, but instead focus on human acrobatics and acts in which the performer can be a willing participant.
Edited by Dezri Rochin.