With school holidays now here, a popular destination for kids on a family day out is the circus. Watch the acrobats swing on the trapeze! Laugh at the clowns!
But one aspect that's no laughing matter at the circus is the mistreatment of animals. While a good number of countries have got wise to banning animals in circuses, unfortunately, there are still instances around the world of cruelty.
What animals are forced to perform in circuses?
Regrettably, a wide range. Tigers and lions, elephants, horses, zebras, camels, bears, llamas, sea lions, chimpanzees, and even domestic animals such as cats and dogs.
What are the instances of animal cruelty in circuses?
Animals are not designed to perform artificial tricks or routines. An elephant does not spin around or stand on its head. A chimp or tiger does not jump through a hoop. Horses should not experience the pain of having to rear on its hind legs.
Apart from the fact that they are forced to perform for an audience's amusement against their will, animals in circuses face harsh treatment.
Larger animals get a raw deal when it comes to living conditions. The likes of lions, tigers, horses and zebras are forced to stay in cramped, claustrophobic temporary locations such as trailers, lorries or makeshift huts and tents. There's little or no room to move around, leaving these animals to pace, rock and sway from side to side – the only exercise that they can properly get, and a far cry from their natural habitats.
Circus animals endure painful and frightening training methods – if a ringmaster cracks the whip, this leaves an animal terrified and vulnerable. The Freedom For Animals organisation investigated the treatment of circus animals, and found a number of alarming instances of cruelty. Horses were slapped. A camel was spat at. An elephant was stabbed with a pitchfork.
With more bans on circus animals worldwide, are there still instances of mistreatment?
The good news is that more countries have either introduced or are planning to implement bans on animals in circuses.
The bad news, however, is that there is still a lot of work to be done, despite more countries joining the cause. In America, a host of cruel practices were discovered at various circuses. Elephants had suffered electric shocks from a prod, while others had been witnessed with blood behind their ears. Some transport conditions were found to contain appalling hygiene, with flies, maggots and other waste affecting the animals inside. On top of this, there were incidents of starvation, lack of satisfactory veterinary care, and lack of exercise.
Animals Asia recently published a report about animal performance in Vietnam, and found that 19 species had been abused, with 16 circus facilities keeping animals in small cages, alone, and in other instances, chained up.
Last year, in France, reports of a shot tiger made the news. The tiger had escaped from a circus, resulting in instant protests to ban animals from French circuses. While Paris City Council did vote against the use of wild animals in circuses, the ultimate decision to ban circus animals was left to the main government.
What progress has been made to ban animals from circuses?
As mentioned, there is good news. Organisations such as Freedom For Animals have campaigned, lobbied governments and educated the public about the mistreatment of circus animals through media, online, and also in person.
With greater awareness, many countries have banned this practice. It's said that more than 40 countries around the world no longer allow animals in circuses. Regions to do so include Italy, India, Latin America and much of Europe. Britain has also joined the cause, with bans in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Earlier this year, it was announced that England would ban wild animals from circuses by the year 2020.
But, as also mentioned, there's still a lot more work to be done...