In the modern day world, humans use many things to entertain their lives. They watch television, play games, go on hikes, but whoever thinks about how they use other living beings for their entertainment? In recent discussions of the effects of animals in entertainment, a controversial issue has been whether it was humane to keep certain animals in circuses and live shows. On the one hand, people argue that circus animals are treated well and trained in a pleasant manner while on the contrary, others claim that they find evidence of animals being treated inhumanely and that their animal rights are taken away. Although there may be ways to make money and find amusement in this form of entertainment, animals are not trained in a proper manner, their living conditions are a constant battle to live through, and they are taken away from their natural habitat.
Animals in circuses are usually thought to be tame, but people don’t reflect on what truly goes on behind the curtains to make animals behave in certain ways. These circus animals, like tigers, lions, and bears, are not meant for the activities that the circus owners want them to act or practice for a show. They are trained in a forceful manner so that they would possibly listen to their trainer. “Bull hooks, whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, and other barbaric tools are used to physically punish the animals until they learn to get it right. Bleeding, bruising and even broken investigators have witnessed bones” (One Green Planet 1). As stated in the article, these wild animals are forced to do certain behaviors that are very unnatural to them by hurting them with certain things so that they understand if they make a mistake they will get hurt. It is a much more efficient, but harmful to the point that these animals could have permanent injuries and cuts on their bodies. These animals are called ‘wild animals’ for a reason and have natural genetic instincts which allow them to live in the ‘wild’ they have “their heightened adrenal glands that drive them to hunt.” In addition to heightened animal hunting instincts, these wild animals also have natural sharp fangs and have evolved over many years to become a predator, not some circus animal. Therefore, it is not enough to consider that circus animals are tame. Their case is more like that of slaves. In the same way that slaves had their need for freedom but could not express it due to fear of more oppression from their masters, most circus animals still have their wild predisposition in their DNA but choose to suppress it in fear of facing extremely punitive measures from their trainers.
Not only are they trained harshly, but their living conditions are also terrible and are a slight torture for them every single day. “Animals are forced to travel in boxcars or trailers for up to 100 hours straight! These cars and trailers are cramped, unsanitary, and poorly ventilated. Animals have even died when temperatures have exceeded 100 degrees” (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 1). These circus animals are forced to stay in a habitat they are not evolved to live in especially when live shows and circus acts tend to travel throughout the country to amass a larger viewing and greater profit. Bears, for example, are forced to go through scorching weathers in the summer while lions have to endure sometimes freezing temperatures which can lead them to very critical health problems. The above is just not how they were genetically structured, and they need space to move around and feel like the predators that they are. Many people don’t know about this, however, because they only want to be entertained. Elephants, a common source of marvel in the circuses, have been beaten to the point where they bleed in the pursuit of forcing them to perform certain uncomfortable and dangerous stunts such as standing on small platforms on their heads.
Another thing that people who fancy going to circuses and animal live shows do not know is the extreme malnourishment that circus animals go through. Dehydration and partial starvation is an everyday aspect of life for circus animals. Two reasons promote the above aspect. First, during the long travels which at times last to over 100 hours, the animals are hardly fed or are fed with food that is not naturally appropriate for them which they find hard eating and thus the partial starvation. Secondly, the circus trainers most of the time apply starvation and dehydration as an incentive motivation technique to force the animals to perform according to their specific required standards. “They consider to tame him through starvation just as Crusoe domesticates wild goats” (Armstrong, Philip 45). Notably, direct infliction of pain is not sufficient to make the animals perform various tricks. Being forced to go for extended breaks without water or food also applies to psychologically force them to improve their skills during both in training as well as in the live shows. In their defense for the above unethical practice, circuit owners and promoters argue that it is essential to deprive the animals of their basic requirements, which is combined with the extreme physical mistreatment and abuse, to maintain the level of fear necessary to keep the circus animals submissive to the human trainers. In light of the above, it is apparent that the only objective of circus managers and owners is the generation of revenue and profits without any consideration of the material effect it has on the animals. The animals are mere assets that are considered only as tools, or objects, of income generation.
Another very sensitive issue that significantly affects the circus animals is the lack or loss of family ties. Whether wild or domestic, the aspect of family is important to all animals. It plays a very integral part of the development and completeness of animals. Therefore, living in segregation and isolation is not the epitome of overlooking the physiological needs of circus animals – depriving them of their right to family ties is. “Wild animals require sufficient space to remain physically and psychologically healthy. Even the most equipped circuses are not able to provide them with this” (Grant, Catharine 179). The most common circus animals include lions, tigers, elephants, and chimpanzees, among other primates and big cats. Notably, all the above animals are naturally very social. They like herding or doing other activities together – as nuclear as well as in extended families. However, the above basic animal development aspect is denied from the circus animals from two perspectives. First, most of the circus animals are taken away from their mothers and natural habitats when they are still very young and still in need of their parents’ care. Another viewpoint is that even when some circus animals accidentally get young ones, they are now allowed to take care of them. According to the rationale of the circus owners, training animals when they are still small and without many family ties to their parents and other relatives is fundamental in ensuring that they learn the circus tricks quickly. Unfortunately, the above act is a total violation of the physiological needs of animals. Ideally, taking animals away from their mothers while they are yet to wean and introducing them to solitary confinements culminates to the development of depression, extreme frustration, and anxiety, among other stress-oriented illnesses.
In a rather rational expectation culminating from the individual or combined treatment of the circus animals, a good number of them end up developing long-term disabilities. Right from the beginning, none of the circus animals are interested in performing the tricks they do in the circus shows. “The RSPCA held demonstrations in different towns in front of circus entrance, at which its protesters carried banners of photographs of injured animals and revealing what was presumably the circus’s backstage ‘real’ treatment of the animals” (Hobart, Angela 217). One again, the development of disabilities has various standpoints. First, some of the tricks they are forced to perform are totally against their psychological predisposition. For instance, tigers are naturally afraid of fire. Therefore, being forced to jump through fire loops at times makes them panic which leads to severe accidents which get them burned. Training large animals like elephants to make dangerous head stands is also subject to high-risk exposure and accidents are normal too. Notably, the training sessions are characterized by regular accidents which have detrimental effects on the physical performance of the circus animals. Sometimes the coordination between absolute circus activities is lost, and the results are usually physical injuries. More so, the general captive nature of circus animals is overly poor which also plays a huge part in promoting poor experiences which not only significantly reduces the lifespans of the circus animals but also results in physical as well as mental disorders of various types. The absence of natural exercise necessary for different animals, coupled with the highly uncomfortable daily confinements in extreme conditions, also results in the development of long-term disabilities for the circus animals.
Many of the people who buy tickets to go to circuses or carnivals are mostly young people who are simply oblivious to the fact that animals are getting hurt. Ideally, the largest fans of circuses are not aware of the adverse treatment of circus animals. To them, they are in the pursuit of fun and feature no aspect of ethical or sustainable treatment of animals. The above being the case, they stand out as a good bargain for circus entertainment with little or no criticism. Notably, circus owners take advantage of these young people for profit. However, the discussion above exhibits enough rationale that there are so many adverse effects subjected to the circus animals in the pursuit of providing both fun, for the circus loves, and money, for the circus owners. There have been strong global campaigns against the highly unacceptable mistreatment of circus animals which have culminated into a significant decline in such activities in the main parts across the world. Standing out as an aspect of the entertainment industry that has been present for many centuries, it is impossible to completely ban circuses and live animal shows. However, there still is the need to impose stricter regulations to ensure that those circuit owners who choose to continue to observe the minimum expectations and standards of treating circus animals more ethically. With better regulations, the circus animals will still not be as comfortable as they would be in their natural habitats, but at least the reduction of extreme adverse conditions they are currently subjected to will help to develop circuses and live animal shows into more socially and morally responsible entertainment pursuits.
Armstrong, Philip. What Animals Mean in The Fiction of Modernity. 1st ed., London, Routledge, 2008.
Grant, Catharine. The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights. 1st ed., Oxford, New Internationalist, 2006.
Hobart, Angela. Aesthetics in Performance. 1st ed., New York, Berghahn Books, 2007.
One Green Planet. “5 Reasons Why Animal Circuses in The U.S. Need to Be Banned NOW!”. One Green Planet, 2016, http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/reasons-why-animal-circuses-in-the-u-s-need-to-be-banned/.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “10 Reasons Not to Attend the Circus”. PETA, 2016, http://www.peta.org/features/10-reasons-attend-circus/.