The circus is coming to town! It’s the Greatest Show on Earth!
But while all might seem happy and exciting beneath the Big Top, there is suffering and misery just a few steps away. There is no joy for the animals who are forced to perform in circuses.
Circus animals are more than a tradition. They are a big part of the bottom line for this industry which uses the animals as a draw to sell tickets. Even when circus owners are well-intentioned, the reality is that it is not possible to give these animals a good life.
They may receive adequate food and water, but any animal’s welfare goes well beyond these basic necessities.
To meet the physical and behavioral needs of wild animals like elephants and lions, circus owners would have to allow them to wander over many acres of land and to socialize with others of their kind. Instead, animals are confined in small spaces and deprived of their inherent social needs. When not performing, they spend most of their time shut in trailers and train cars. It is a miserable life and that misery is reflected in the abnormal behaviors they sometimes show – rocking, swaying, and pacing – all activities indicating they are in distress and not coping with their environment.
Many of the animals live in fear since the techniques used to train them to do tricks sometimes employ painful tactics. Their performances are the end result of whips, bull hooks, electric prods, and deprivation.
The irony is that these performances are largely aimed at children, a segment of the population who have the most affinity for animals. Most children would be devastated to learn how the animals they love are actually treated.
Fortunately, the public is increasingly aware that animals don’t belong in the entertainment industry. As the reality of these animals’ lives is exposed, more people are turning their backs on traditional circuses.
You can make a difference for circus animals.
You can help end animal cruelty in the circus through your personal choices as well as through support of legislation. First, support circuses that don’t use animals. These performances are extraordinary fun for people of all ages. They include entertainment by clowns, contortionists, fire eaters, acrobats, jugglers, trapeze artists, and tightrope walkers.
For a fun local option, check out Circus Smirkus, a Vermont-based international youth circus that is touring New England this summer. Their performances are free of animal acts and instead promote the “skills, culture and traditions of the traveling circus, inspiring youth to engage in life-changing adventures in the circus arts.”
In fact, circuses without animals are the status quo in many parts of the world. In the United States, 71 jurisdictions have some form of ban or restriction on wild animal acts. Through the efforts of Berkshire Voters for Animals, the city of Pittsfield recently banned traveling circuses that use animals in their shows. It’s not just smaller cities that are taking this step, though. Circuses with wild animal shows are also banned in Los Angeles and New York City. In Massachusetts Senate minority leader, Bruce Tarr is sponsoring a bill (S.490) that will ban wild and exotic animals from performing anywhere in the state. Representative Lori Ehrlich has sponsored H. 418, a house bill that bans performing elephants.
You can help these efforts by contacting the chairs of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. Ask them to report these bills favorable out of committee.
The Senate Chair is Senator Anne Gobi (617) 722-2210. firstname.lastname@example.org
The House Chair is Smitty Pignatelli 617-722-2575 email@example.com
Finally, legislation at the federal level has bipartisan support. The Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act (TEAPSA! H.R. 1759) will prohibit the use of exotic and wild animals in performances throughout the United States. This House Bill currently has 29 co-sponsors. Western Massachusetts residents can contact our federal representative, Richard Neal at 202 225-5601 and ask him to co-sponsor this bill.
If it passes, the United States will proudly join 34 other countries that ban these circus acts. Clearly, there is considerable momentum to make circus animal acts a thing of an inglorious past!
For more information about how you can help circus animals, visit the Berkshire Voters for Animals page on facebook or contact BerkshireVotersforAnimals@gmail.com
Edna Dugas is a member of Berkshire Voters for Animals