Stolen lives - Circus performances and animals

The circus as we know it was started in the UK in 1768 by Philip Astley. The first performance featured the ‘trick riding’ of horses and live music. It wasn’t until 1772 that the term ‘circus’ was first used. The Royal Circus was launched by Charles Dibdin and featured horsemanship, animal acts and comic turns. In 1793, the first circus in the USA was opened featuring a rope walker, clowns and horse riding. By the 1840’s the circus was established in the UK and USA and was generally performed in purpose-built buildings known as Hippodromes or Marble Halls in the USA.

With the expansion of the railways, circuses began ‘touring’, especially in the USA, where Barnum & Baileys had a ‘Circus train’ of 70 carriages travelling around the states all year long. In the 1850’s the circus began to use ‘exotic’ animals such as Elephants, Lions and Tigers. The animals were captured from the wild and ‘broken’ to perform ‘tricks’ for the entertainment of the audience.

The Circus has exploited animals from the very first show. The animals soon became captive bred and spent their lives touring from one venue to another, cramped in metal cages whilst travelling up to 16 hours a day, before being made to perform for the paying public in the show. 

It is hard to imagine how these animals must have suffered. They spent their lives with humans and were dependent upon them for food and basic shelter, that they only received once they complied with the demand to perform first. They never got to feel the ground under their feet or live a natural wildlife.

Circus animals do not naturally do handstands, stand on their heads or jump through rings of fire. They are trained by the withdrawal of food and beating, whilst they resist. Once they comply with the trainer's demands they are fed and watered. Elephants are trained in the same way, but trainers use ‘bullhooks’ - heavy steel batons with a sharp metal hook on one end. They are beaten with ‘Bullhooks’ until they comply.

When not performing, the big cats are held captive in small metal cages. They can lay down or stand on the metal floor but not without their legs or sides rubbing the cage bars. They suffer from persistent sores and abrasions on their skin. They also bite the bars from boredom damaging their teeth, causing rot and decay. Elephants and Camels are restrained by chains. 

When travelling, the animals are loaded into large trucks, that are often cramped, hot and poorly ventilated. In America, an Elephant named Heather died from heat exhaustion during a journey on a truck.

It’s no surprise then, that the animals quickly become despondent and depressed. Stereotypical behaviour patterns develop, such as swaying, head-bobbing and incessant self-harm, often through ‘over-grooming’. Sometimes, the animals are ‘treated’ with antidepressants. 

The real issue is that their ‘natural lives’ have been stolen from them. They are denied any opportunity to run, play, interact or socialise - they are unable to act instinctively or naturally - their lives have been stolen from them so they can perform for us!

Using sentient animals in circuses is wrong. All animals - not only big cats and Elephants but Camels, horses and primates. Many species have forced to perform in these travelling ‘menageries’. 

No animal should be confined, broken and suffer abuse simply for human entertainment.