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For circuses without animals

Why we say No to performing animals in circuses

"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 tricks?"

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 psychological needs

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 believing

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 methods used:

"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 tamer)

"… 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 Reboux)

"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.

Our proposals

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 animals,

- encourage a form of education that respects life and enables children to discover animals in their natural surroundings,

- eliminate the risk of accidents involving wild animals.

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 refuges,

- 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.