My poor deprived children have never been to the circus. Not one with animals, anyway. Truthfully they have been to the circus once – an animal free circus, but they are quick to point out that they are the “only children in the world” who have never been to the circus. One day they’ll be proud of that.
What is wrong with the circus? Let’s pretend for a minute that the animals in the circus are treated like royalty, just the way we treat our dogs and cats at home. Where do the elephants and tigers in the circus come from? Some are captured from their native countries, some are bred in captivity. Do they choose to join the circus, like the clowns and the trapeze artists? Of course not. These are not domesticated animals like dogs and cats. Living in cages and traveling on trains is not a good life for a wild animal. Health problems are common, and access to appropriate veterinary care is sometimes difficult.
Did you know that in the wild, elephants walk up to 25 miles a day? Elephants are very social animals and live in large herds where they can interact with other elephants all day every day. Obviously a circus elephant cannot live that kind of life.
Now let’s forget our fantasy that the animals are treated like royalty. Animal abuse is rampant in the circus industry. Elephants and tigers are big and fierce, and can easily dominate a human being. It doesn’t take too wild a stretch of the imagination to figure out that training these animals, who can kill their trainer at any moment, would involve subjecting the animals to fear and pain. Sure, when you are at the circus it looks like the animals are given positive reinforcement treats and rewards, but what is really going on behind the scenes?
The animals are also chained. At the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a place for elephants rescued from circuses and zoos, an elephant named Billie arrived from a circus at age 53, with a chain on her ankle. For 5 years she refused to let anyone remove that chain. She walked around with it rattling, and it became known as her “bracelet”. You can read her story and see the video here, the day she finally allowed the chain to be removed.
When my children were in elementary school, our synagogue planned a trip to the Ringling Brothers circus. I don’t consider myself an animal activist, but I spoke to the religious school director who was planning the trip, to try to get her to cancel the trip. In Judaism, there is a concept of “tikkun olam”, which means to save the world. I tried to explain that the exploitation of animals for our entertainment in circuses was not saving the world, and that we, as Jews, should set an example. She responded by telling me that “they don’t abuse animals in circuses anymore.” Despite the evidence I gave her, she would not cancel the trip.
That is one of the reasons I am not Jewish anymore.
You can read a multitude of articles on the internet about what happens behind the scenes in circuses, and you can believe it or not. To me, the bottom line is that animals should not be used for our entertainment. Wild animals belong in the wild, not in a cage, or on a train, or in the Verizon Center, or in a zoo. What gives us the right to take them away from their families and their homes and make them perform for us? Our desire to own and control animals is one of the most shameful aspects of being a human.