If there is one thing that Americans love it is seeing majestic animals interacting in their natural habitat: the circus. Who among us does not have fond memories of going to the circus with family and friends to watch the happy elephants and lions and tigers as they perform? Unfortunately, the more one learns, the more the child-like enjoyment of the circus becomes tainted.
Take Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, who just left Miami after a five-day stint at the American Airlines Arena. What could be wrong with them, you ask? Well, behind the rings of fire and underneath the clowns’ painted smiles lurks a ruthless business of animal exploitation and abuse.
Reports about cruelty to animals are not new. However, one would think that a business such as the circus that relies on animals for its livelihood would not fall subject to such claims. Sadly, a closer look into Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and other less known circuses paints quite a different picture.
Stories about nursing baby elephants being torn from their mothers and being forced to live in appalling conditions may seem incredulous, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Recently, Ringling paid $20,000 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to settle charges of failing to provide veterinary care to a dying baby elephant. And in order to get the elephants to perform, trainers use metal bull hooks and whips, and keep them shackled in tiny cages between shows. Other circuses have been charged with similar abuses including harsh beatings, improper medical care, inadequate feeding, and unacceptable living conditions. Moreover, many of these animals are captured from the wild and spend the rest of their lives in harsh captivity. Because elephants actually organize themselves into families in the wild and display mourning behavior when a member dies or is lost, this practice of taking animals from the wild is particularly detrimental.
Of course, the problem does not stop at elephants. Charges were brought against one circus for feeding tigers tainted meat, ending in multiple deaths. Although the organization claimed to have fixed the problem, it was later discovered that they were still feeding the animals bad meat.
Now, many people might simply write this off as meaningless bleeding-heart sentimentalism. After all, don’t we have more important things to worry about? Well, it may indeed be bleeding-heart, but with good reason. Should such treatment of innocent creatures simply go unnoticed? How much integrity can we claim to have if we derive entertainment from cruelty?
Although the circus is one of the worst sites of animal abuse, it is certainly not the only one. The fact remains that the treatment of animals in entertainment is criminal not to mention embarrassing. If the human race hasn’t progressed far enough to ensure the humane treatment of animals how will we ever ensure the humane treatment of other humans? There are enough ways to entertain ourselves in this world besides watching an abused bear ride a tricycle through a ring of fire. These are majestic animals that belong in the wild not locked in cages. So the next time you’re thinking about spending your money to view one of these shows, please get a job instead so you can save up enough money to fly to Tanzania to see these animals in their native habitat as they should rightfully be.