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circuses

Jean Richard, an animal’s best friend?

Jean Richard, who until 1978 owned Pinder circus, died of cancer on December 12th 2001, aged 80. Lavishly praised by the media for his talent as an actor (he played Inspector Maigret on French television) and for his “talent” as an animal-tamer, for a few days he came to symbolise the animal’s best friend. In 1980 he was awarded France’s Grand Prix national du cirque, having convinced the government to recognise the circus as a performing art. In 1971 he even became administrator of an animal defence league. And yet anyone reading his book Mes bêtes à moi (“My Animals”) can only be shocked by his attitude towards these same animals.

In 1956 Jean Richard opened Ermenonville, Europe’s first private zoo. In his book he talks openly of how these animals are snatched from their natural habitat to supply circuses and zoos in France, with a few hints on how to get a good deal from traffickers thrown in. At no point does he raise any objection to the capture and life imprisonment of these animals who until then had lived freely in the wild.

His first experience as an animal-tamer speaks for itself: “With a fork and a whip in my hand, I entered the hen house and got down to work on a poor cockerel, driving it crazy in just three ferocious sessions. The aim wasn’t to kill it but to crush it. A vocation was born…

His attitude towards elephants is just as revealing: "The next day I was ready and waiting for them, whip in hand. As they entered the ring, the first elephant paused. He looked me up and down then looked around the empty big top. He immediately understood that the confrontation about to take place between us, with no witnesses, would be a violent one. They wasted no time entering the ring, where they did everything expected of them. How to punish them?… It was perfect! That night in front of the crowd with the lights beaming down they did absolutely everything I made them. One of them even came in backwards…” Jean Richard speaks of punishment, violent confrontation and, worst of all, the absence of witnesses! What can explain the behaviour of these three-tonne mastodons other than their terror at the punishment that otherwise awaits them? This fear is evident in another of Jean Richard’s anecdotes: "I’ve seen Franz Althoff, who owns Europe’s biggest troupe, get to within four meters of the big top and start screaming in German at the fifteen elephants there, who immediately started pissing themselves (with fear).” Given such blatant declarations, one can but wonder what goes on among animal-tamers in France today, particularly when one knows that Gilbert Edelstein, Pinder’s current chairman, was once Jean Richard’s assistant.

Over recent years, and across the globe, scandalous new revelations have come to light about the violence of animal-tamers. In August 2001, for example, Mark Oliver Gebel from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus was caught in San José (USA) hitting a female elephant with a sharp metal bullhook. Over and over again, throughout the twentieth century, animal-tamers in France speak of the violence that is part of their work. How can one possibly believe that the situation is anything different today? Can one really imagine that a peanut is all it takes to make a bear ride a child’s scooter (an act presented by Kid Bauer, who worked as an animal-tamer at Pinder for fifteen years and who One Voice filmed with a hidden camera in Bourges, in November 2001)? Furthermore, the main French circuses often hire foreign animal-tamers.

Jean Richard deserves no praise for his activity as zoo-owner and animal-tamer. He was on no account an animal’s best friend; he was their jailer, their dominator and a merchant.

Relentlessly fighting animal slavery in circuses

We must continue to inform the public, but also local councils, authorities and other organisations, that to support circuses with animal acts is to accept one of the last forms of slavery. That to pay to laugh at a living being whose life is one of imprisonment and submission is to encourage such domination, and that this is wholly unacceptable. Our work to convince ministries and European institutions can only be successful if the public rejects such exploitation and only attends circuses that do not use animals in their show. Latest figures establish that there are 150 traditional circuses (with animals) and 350 modern circuses (without animals). In this sense, we are witnessing a positive evolution towards animal-free circuses. Sadly, in terms of audience the trend is reversed, with 60% of circus-goers attending traditional circuses, 26% small village circuses and just 14% contemporary circuses (figures based on a 1992 survey by the French ministry of culture). We must promote these modern circuses, and encourage local councils and authorities who wish to have a circus in their town to choose them. If demand for animal-free circuses grows, traditional circuses will be obliged to adapt accordingly to survive.

Our aim is not to oppose a modern circus concept to the traditional circus arts. Our aim is to oppose circuses without animals to circuses with animals. One Voice will be publishing a list of 100% animal-free circuses on its website (www.onevoice-ear.org) so that local authorities, schools and other bodies can choose them.

We also need you to relay this information among family, friends and colleagues, to react to each article that approves the exploitation of animals, and to demand that your children’s schools are aware of the anti-pedagogical impact of taking pupils to see animals in an unnatural environment, demonstrating unnatural behaviour, and forced to submit to the whims and violence of an unscrupulous tamer.

Translation: Sandra Petch

Franck Schrafstetter

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