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A bear in a pink costume riding a bicycle.

Circus Animals: 10 Reasons Why The US Needs To Ban Them Immediately

A trip to the circus is often seen as a fun day out but anyone who attends an event like this needs to be aware of what life is like for circus animals. For them, rather than a fun day out, it is a lifetime of confinement where they are kept in chains and forced into the ring to perform the same monotonous tricks over and over again in front of endless auditoriums.

In 2017, close to 40 countries across the world have banned animals from appearing in circuses, but sadly the United States - along with France, Ukraine and many others - is not one of them. Instead, the government stands back as many animals are stolen from their families, half starved to death, beaten every day and trapped behind bars for the majority of their lives. All in the name of entertainment. Join VT as we talk you through 10 reasons why the curtain should fall on the “Greatest Show on Earth".

Circus animals growl at their trainer Credit: Reuters

1. Circus animals can spend up to 96% of their lives behind bars

It's difficult to believe that anyone could be confined to one place for such a large amount of their lives. But shockingly, this figure is true for some animals who belong to circuses. It is estimated that circus tigers and lions will spend between 75 and 99 per cent of their time in severely cramped cages on the backs of trailers, while Animal Defenders International report that horses and ponies can spend up to 96 per cent of their time tied with short ropes in stalls, or tethered to trailers.

2. Babies are torn away from their mothers immediately

It's been reported that elephant mothers sometimes give birth with their legs tied down, so that babies can be stolen immediately. In addition, PETA claims that other elephant babies who are still nursing - usually between 18 and 24 months old - have rope tied around all four of their legs and are dragged away from their mothers. From that moment forward, they are punished any time they try to engage in any type of instinctive behaviour like running away, until finally the day comes that their spirits are broken and they meekly accept their torment.

3. Physical punishment is used as a training technique

Circus animals learn about the pain of the whip early on and often cringe and cower as their trainers approach; the Animal Welfare Act allows the use of bullhooks, whips, electrical shock prods, or other devices to train circus animals, so it's not uncommon at all to find them beaten and in a state of shock from the savage discipline they're subjected to.

Circus animals perform during the opening of the 41st Monte-Carlo International Circus Festival in Monaco Credit: Reuters

4. Deprivation is used as punishment

It comes as no surprise that starvation and dehydration is another key tool in the "breaking" process. Animals will often be starved until they are willing to obey every order their handler barks at them. In 2015, it was reported by One Green Planet that a young circus lion, Magnus, was starved by its owners in Spain in order to ensure that it stayed small and cute for selfies with visitors. Luckily, the circus - which was charging visitors €20 per photo - was caught and the young lion was seized by state veterinary officials and taken for treatment.

5. The animals commonly develop disabilities

Performing dangerous tricks over and over again often leaves the animals who perform in circus shows with awful afflictions no one would wish on anyone. When Chinadialogue interviewed Jin Yipeng, deputy professor of veterinary medicine at China Agricultural University, the expert told all about the animals she had treated. She said: "I saw one of these boxing bears which had been made to stand on its hind legs for so long it had arthritis, which developed into chronic hip damage and then necrosis. It would have been disabled for the rest of its life. I took an X-ray and saw that surgery would have been an option. The circus didn’t think the bear was worth the costs, so it didn’t happen."

6. They sometimes have genetic defects from inbreeding

The white tiger is extremely rare in the wild, but can easily be found in circuses around the world. This is no coincidence; many white tigers in circuses are products of inbreeding and have genetic defects which include being cross-eyed, having club feet and spinal deformities, as well as being prone to other health problems.

Circus animals jump through hoops of fire Credit: Reuters

7. Keeping them locked up can be lethal

The animals involved in circus performances can become a danger to the public and to their trainers. After years of confinement and beating, they have been known to escape, attack members of the public and maul or kill handlers. Perhaps the most recent publicised incident of this kind was when Buffalo Circus lion tamer Steeve Loberot was savaged by his lion in front of an audience of screaming children in Doullens, Northern France. Amazingly, the keeper was saved by his quick-thinking wife who sprayed a fire extinguisher into the ring, forcing the 220kg big cat away from her husband. But he was one of the lucky ones and thousands of others have not been so fortunate.

8. They are forced to do the things they fear

Whether it be jumping through fire, balancing on a tightrope or riding a motorcycle, the animals who perform tricks for audience's entertainment do not want to be there and are often struck with fear when taking part in shows. It comes as no surprise that the animals involved often die prematurely or grievously injure themselves while on stage or in rehearsal. Professor Jin Yipeng remembers a tiger that lost its sight after jumping through a ring of fire, saying: "Its two eyes had turned white, with the corneas ulcerating after being burned. There might have still been burnt matter in there, I can’t be sure. The hair on its head had been scorched off, and there was a burn the size of a bowl on its forehead."

Circus animals ride bicycles during a show presenting the new program 'From Heart to Heart' at the National circus in the Ukrainian capital Kiev Credit: Reuters

9. They're drugged to make them easier to control

A number of animals are drugged in order to make them easier to control for trainers. While they are in a passive state, their teeth are sometimes removed so they are unable to fight back against their abusers. For instance, PETA reports that they have found chimpanzees with their teeth knocked out by a hammer in the past.

10. They travel in horrific circumstances for up to 11 months per year

ASPCA reports that, during the off-season or in between shows, animals can be found in traveling crates, trucks or barn stalls. Bears and big cats are typically kept in 5×10 ft cages and typically develop sores from rubbing against the wire bars. In fact, a few years ago United States Animal Welfare cited every major circus for not attaining the bare minimum level of care. Harmful physical and psychological effects on animals are often indicated by unnatural forms of behaviour such as repeated head-bobbing, swaying, and pacing.

Like many things from history which are now under greater moral scrutiny, circuses are now seen as something of a relic of the past and a questionable relic of the past at that. Clearly, the choice is yours. But these are the facts.

  • Aug
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  • Emma Brazell