February 27, 2012
For many people, the news that the circus is coming to town conjures up a host of good memories from their childhood.
Mystery and amazement still remains for many adults, and no doubt for the children who will experience the circus for the first time. The exotic animals, acrobats, and clowns have been a feature of family entertainment for many years and, indeed, an event that parents often relish introducing to their children.
So it might have come as a surprise to some residents of Florence, South Carolina when they arrived at the Ringling Bros. circus February 17th to see the object of their fond memories being greeted with a small group of protesters gathered outside the venue.
The protesters, who were members of FMU Animal Rights Advocates, a student organization from the local university, as well as other independent animal rights activists appeared outside of the Florence Civic Center where the circus was being held in order to demonstrate against the repeated and documented acts of animal cruelty committed by Ringling Brothers. The protesters handed out a number of fliers and pamphlets in the hope to educate the circus goers to the tainted history of Ringling and other operations like it.
For those who may be unaware, it might be helpful to point out that animals who engage in unnatural acts such as jumping through rings of fire, dancing, and rolling over on command, do not do so of their own free will, or because they dreamed of becoming entertainers; they do so because the consequences of not performing are terrifying and unbelievably painful.
Because circuses never publicize the “training” process, it is not surprising that the majority of Americans have no idea what the animals they watch in the circus rings suffer through on a daily basis when the show is over. Undercover video footage procured by groups like PETA has shown an appalling amount of cruel and inhumane treatment involving beatings, dragging, shocking, kicking, and other horrific methods of “training.”
Take a look at the videos below to get a sampling of what kind of “training” these animal entertainers must go through to become performers in operations like Ringling Brothers circus.
As a former employee of Ringling Brothers stated during his congressional testimony on June 13, 1999, “After my three years of working with elephants in the circus, I can tell you that they live in confinement and they are beaten all the time when they don’t perform properly.”
As PETA has documented:
Undercover video footage of animal training sessions has shown that elephants are beaten with bullhooks and shocked with electric prods, big cats are dragged by heavy chains around their necks and hit with sticks, bears are whacked and prodded with long poles, and chimpanzees are kicked and hit with riding crops. Carson & Barnes trainers have even been documented using blowtorches on elephants.
Although some of the elephants in circuses like Ringling’s are captured and smuggled from overseas, many of the elephants acquired for use in the circus are born into captivity. These elephants are ripped from their mothers from the moment they exit the womb and dragged away as the chained mother screams and pulls at her chains at the sight of her baby being taken. The baby elephants are then subject to torturous “training” after just a few years of life, as they are groomed for their careers entertaining families who stuff themselves full of cotton candy and fool themselves into believing that the animals are having as fun a time as they are.
cognitively developed animals in the world and are well-known for being animals of “social complexity.”
Elephants have long exhibited traits that can be related to empathy and self-recognition. With this in mind, one might speculate as to whether or not many of these captive elephants are engaging in infanticide in a desperate attempt to prevent their offspring from living a life of suffering that they experienced themselves.
In addition to the brutal physical abuse, but because of the constant travel required by the circus, the animals are confined to tiny boxcars, trailers, and cages for days at a time constantly being exposed to the elements as well as being forced to sit in their own feces and urine. Because these animals are meant to roam free in the wild, they are often driven insane by their confinement. Swaying back and forth, pacing, head-bobbing, biting cage bars, and even self-mutilation are quite common among circus animals.
According to PETA, Ringling’s own documents have revealed that elephants are chained for an average of 26 straight hours or more and are sometimes chained for as long as 60 to 100 hours. The tigers fare just as bad, being crammed two to a cage that is barely big enough for one animal to turn around in. There have been many incidents of animal injuries and deaths as a result of the poor transportation and “storage” conditions.
Ringling has actually been cited numerous times by the USDA for violations of the AWA. The violations include:
Improper handling of dangerous animals; failure to provide adequate veterinary care to animals including an elephant with a stiff leg, an elephant with a large swelling on her leg, elephants with abrasions, a camel with bloody wounds, and a camel injured on train tracks; causing trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm, and unnecessary discomfort to two elephants who sustained injuries when they ran amok during a performance; endangering tigers who were nearly baked alive in a boxcar because of poor maintenance of their enclosures; failure to test elephants for tuberculosis; and unsanitary feeding practices
Indeed, the USDA has been involved in at least 6 investigations involving Ringling and its animal abuse between the years 1999-2004.
For a relatively detailed fact sheet regarding the cruel and inhumane behavior of Ringling Brothers, see here.
It is a sad fact that the majority of circus goers have no idea what kind of conditions circus animals have to endure. Most of them truly believe that the animals perform out of love and respect for their trainers in return for exceptional treatment.
Sadly, however, there is a significant number of the population who would not care even if they were aware of the level of suffering these animals must endure. Such an attitude is a sad commentary on the state of our society. It is, after all, this mentality which has allowed such horrific slaughters as the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and many other nations to continue unabated.
Indeed, it is true that individuals who abuse and torture animals rarely stop there. It is a known fact that individuals who brutalize animals tend to behave in the same way toward humans. Likewise, those that wish to justify or ignore others who engage in such acts against animals are likely to do the same when acts of brutality are committed against other humans.
Yet the truth is that, especially in the case of circuses, many are unaware of the level of cruelty and abuse that takes place. In 2012, the thought that someone or something else may actually be suffering for the benefit of your entertainment or convenience rarely enters into the mind of the average person.
This is why the work of organizations like FMU Animal Rights Advocates is so important. Educating the general public as to the consequences of how and where they spend their dollars is paramount. Forcing the public to confront the results of their actions will not likely convince everyone, or even a majority, to change the way they spend their money or the entertainment they choose to support.
However, it will reach a few. And this might be all that is needed to replicate activism elsewhere in a manner that will reach even more people until both the movement and awareness reach critical mass.
Read other articles by Brandon Turbeville here.
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