Why we say No to performing animals in
"Can we imagine what life must be like
for the lions, tigers, leopards and other animals that leave
their cages, measuring just a few square metres, for a few
minutes each day, to walk down a corridor lined with bars into
another cage, this time in a ring, to perform their
Extract from the Forette Report, presented
to the French Conseil Economique et Social in 1998.
The majority of adults and children who go
to the circus love animals. And yet it is the audience –
through the tickets they buy – that keep performing animals
in situations of captivity and suffering. This paradox can be
explained by the lack of public awareness of the conditions in
which circus animals are forced to live.
Frustration of physiological and
Scandinavian countries banned the presence of
wild animals in circuses over 40 years ago. India and Austria
are in the process of adopting similar legislation. Indeed,
circuses cannot provide animals with the space and living
conditions that are essential to their physiological and
psychological well-being (on average, circus animals live in ten
times less space than zoo animals). Such deprivation leads to
stereotypic behaviour (e.g. repetitive movements) and specific
illnesses. Circuses cannot respect the biological needs of the
species they detain (environment, interaction with other members
of their species, space, response to stimuli, etc.).
Transporting the animals over long distances in hot and
overcrowded lorries does nothing to ease their suffering. The
animals are shaken and jerked for hours and even days on end,
resulting in injury and bruising.
Accidents are inevitable. In 1994 in
Honolulu, Tyke the elephant escaped after injuring a keeper and
killing a tamer. She only collapsed and died, covered in blood,
after being shot by police with 86 bullets. In 1998 near Paris,
Tibor, a 21-year-old brown bear weighing 300 kilos, broke out of
the ring at the Lapland circus, spreading panic through the
audience and injuring a young girl. Following this incident, two
spectators filed official complaints: one for inadequate safety
measures and one for ill-treatment of the bear. In 1999 the
giraffe at Arlette Grüss circus died in an accident while
locked in its lorry. An elephant belonging to a Zavatta circus
died of a heart attack. In 2000 a lion and a horse from the
Franco-Belgian circus died after escaping.
The loving tamer…. when seeing is not
Animals are used by circus people whose
talent is a million miles from that of genuine circus artists.
Their performances are all the more
questionable as they force the animal to behave in completely
unnatural ways: elephants made to stand on two legs, monkeys
forced to parade in tutus, etc. The so-called "gentle"
methods used to train the animals rapidly prove inadequate, as
confirmed by certain tamers who have spoken out against the
"The animals are tortured for profit. We
force them to stand with one leg in the air, to jump through a
hoop. The public claps the first time, the second time… then
they get bored, meaning we must constantly find new tricks. We’re
all out to make money, no matter what we must inflict on the
animals in the process…" (Paul Leroyer, former animal
"… the somersaulting dog is doing a
trick that maybe ten other dogs were made to try before it and
whose spine, because it was less strong, perhaps broke…" (Paul
"Take a sugar lump out of your pocket
from time to time and feed it to the animal: your pupil gives an
excellent impression to the audience, who are convinced the
animal enjoys doing its tricks, that it is well-cared for and
pampered by its master from dawn to dusk, and that it loves this
master more than anything in the world. This is the kind of
thing we must do to hide the cruelty of our profession. If the
public had any idea just how cruel it is, then all our shows
would be banned." (Harry Collins, animal tamer)
Teaching the wrong lessons
The big top continues to showcase a
regrettably neo-colonialist view of the world, where exotic
animals such as camels, elephants and lions must give in to the
tamer and the audience. What lessons do children draw from the
ethnocentric picture that circuses paint? Should schools be
taking their pupils to watch such presentations? For One Voice,
the answer is no. The mixing of animals from different
environments and countries, the unnatural postures they are
forced to adopt, the artificial surroundings and the distorted
vision of animal-human relationships offer children a perverted
image of the animal world.
A legislative void
Many circuses do not hold the necessary
certificates, authorising them to detain wild animals. Nor do
they comply with the stipulations of the Washington Convention.
They are quite simply breaking the law (these include Amar, C.
Grüss and several Zavatta circuses).
In accordance with article 211 of the French
Rural Code, a mayor is entitled to turn away circuses that
detain non-domestic animals that are considered to be dangerous,
and that do not comply with the law. This is virtually the only
legislation in France that specifically covers the question of
circus animals. One Voice is working for the adoption of
much-needed legislation in this domain.
One Voice is campaigning for a ban on the
presence of performing animals in travelling shows and circuses,
and for the promotion of genuine circus arts that respect living
creatures. The advantages of this would be to:
- oppose the exploitation and ill-treatment
of performing animals and the existence of illegal circuses,
- promote "alternative" circuses
that rely on human talent, creativity and imagination instead of
- encourage a form of education that respects
life and enables children to discover animals in their natural
- eliminate the risk of accidents involving
The first stages of this process to abolish
the presence of performing animals in circuses could include:
- an end to the importation and breeding of
the animals in question,
- gradual transfer of the animals to suitable
- implementation of a programme and subsidies
to help circuses with animals develop new shows without animals.
It is our duty to see circus animals not as
stars but as victims. You can actively help One Voice in its
campaign by refusing to go to circuses that use performing
animals, and instead encouraging "alternative"
circuses such as Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Plume or Cirque
Imagine (to name but three) whose shows superbly combine beauty
with respect for life.