While some children have dreams of leaving home to join a circus, likely, the majority of animals who are required to perform in circuses have dreams of getting off from circuses. The colorful spectacle disguises the fact that the animals in circuses are confined animals who are under the threat of being punished–to do a series of repetitive, painful, and uncomfortable and often painful actions. The circuses could quickly be lost when more people were aware of the cruel methods employed to train animals, as and the cramped and unsafe conditions for travel and inhumane treatment they endure, not to mention the consequences for the animals when they “retire.”
A Life That’s Far Away from HomeBecause circuses constantly travel across cities and towns, it’s almost impossible to cater to animals’ varied, regular requirements. The animals, many of them big and naturally active, are forced to live most of their lives in tiny, barren cages and the trailers that transport them. They have just enough space to walk around and stand. Animals are usually allowed out of their cells for brief periods that they have to complete. Elephants are held in leg shackles which restrict their movement to more than one in any direction. The minimal standards in the Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) are often not observed.
In the off-season, circus animals are often housed in moving barn stalls or crates; some even live in trucks. The interminable confinement of animals has negative psychological and physical consequences for animals. The effects of incarceration are usually exhibited by what’s known as “abnormal repetitive behaviors” (ARB), which include head bobbing, swaying, or walking. 1
The tricks animals are forced to do – such as bears balancing on balls, large cats leaping through hoops, and elephants walking on two legs are physically unnatural and behaviourally inhumane. The electric prods, whips, bullhooks, and other tools used in circus shows are reminders of the fact that animals are made to perform. These “performances” teach audiences nothing about the behavior of animals under normal conditions.
Beaten Into Submission
Physical punishment has been the preferred method of training for circus animals. Animals are beaten, shocked, and whipped to force them to perform – over and repeatedly–tricks that don’t make sense to them. The AWA permits the use of whips, bullhooks and electrical shock prods, and other apparatuses employed by circus trainers.
The Wisconsin Historical Society forced elephants and various animals into a museum called Circus World in Baraboo each summer. The PETA investigator discovered the fact that in Circus World, elephants Isa and Viola were made to perform exhausting tricks during shows twice a week, every day of the week, even though their feet were constantly swelling and they were showing indications of other health issues. After years of pressure from PETA, The Society has announced that the elephants they have been forced to perform “retired” after summer 2023–but the Society said that “animals will continue to be a vital part” of the performances. The elephants will reportedly be living at a facility in Oklahoma operated through Carson & Barnes Circus, a chain that houses “retired” elephants, breeds them, and then exploits the animals for lucrative photography and other forms of entertainment.
Video footage filmed during a PETA undercover investigation into Carson & Barnes Circus showed Carson & Barnes’ animal-care director, Tim Frisco, violently screaming, attacking, and cursing at and frightening endangered Asian elephants. Frisco also instructed other trainers to hit the elephants with a bullhook as hard as they could, press the sharp bullhook into the animal’s flesh, and then twist it until they cried out in pain. The videotape also featured the handler using blowtorches to cut off hair from elephants and caged bears and elephants that displayed stereotypical behavior caused by mental distress.
After decades of abuse of animals and decreasing ticket attendance, Ringling Bros.’s final show took place in 2017. 2. in 2022, Feld Entertainment announced that the circus would reopen in 2023’s fall with a focus “on connections between the performers, and the audience.” 3
These intelligent animals in captivity may get agitated under the stress of abuse. Some make their emotions evident when they have an opportunity.
Wayne Franzen, the founder, and director of Franzen Bros. Circus, has been killed by a tiger he had on display before 200 children as well as their parents in Carrolltown, Pennsylvania. 4
A guest of the Endangered Ark Foundation was “attacked without provocation by an adult elephant” as he participated in an encounter with elephants within Hugo, Oklahoma. The victim suffered “serious and life-threatening injuries” and was later left disabled and damaged. “5
What You Can Do
As more and more people are conscious of the harm when a circus requires performers to be animals, the circuses that employ animals find it harder to put up their vast tops. Animals’ use for entertainment has been barred or restricted in cities throughout the U.S. and in countries all over the world.
Bring your family to the only animal-free circus, like Cirque Du Soleil. PETA will provide brochures to hand out to patrons when a circus that uses animals is scheduled to visit your city. Learn about local and state animal protection laws and report any alleged violations to the authorities. Contact PETA for more information about how to ensure that an animal-display restriction is adopted in your local area.