The Jordan World Circus is coming to Montezuma County. In a perfect world, no one would attend because exploited animals performing unnatural, coerced tricks isn’t fun for anyone – animals or human spectators. No one would attend because paying for tickets means paying for abuse. No one would attend because of the harmful lesson kids learn: A lifetime of suffering for animals is a fair trade for a few minutes of human entertainment.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus shut down last May after 146 years in operation. Increasing public awareness and evolving tastes in entertainment factored into that decision, as well as ever more bans on wild and exotic animal performances at venues around the U.S. (81 partial or full bans in 29 states to date). Globally, entire countries have banned animal acts, and many others have enacted partial bans. Attitudes are finally changing.
But smaller circuses in the U.S. still schlep broken-spirited animals around the country in cramped transport carriers, standing in their own waste until arriving at a venue. Then they’re confined again – perhaps chained or caged – until their few minutes of coerced performance in the spotlight where whips and bullhooks control their every move. Then it’s back to chains, cages and transporters and on to the next venue.
Circuses are required to hold an exhibitor’s license from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. This supposedly makes them accountable to standards of humane care set forth in the 1966 Animal Welfare Act, though inspectors are too few, and enforcement is often lax. Jordan no longer possesses a license and instead leases its animal acts from other exhibitors – all of whom have welfare and safety violations.
Whether stolen from the wild or captive-born, there’s no way to make elephants and tigers perform without negative reinforcement. Even Ringling abused its elephants in training, as its CEO admitted under oath.
If, in spite of this letter, you still plan to attend, try to catch a glimpse of the animals as they await their performance (it’s not likely; they’re usually kept out of the public eye). Look for swaying, head bobbing, cage pacing – all signs of psychological distress from boredom, deprivation and abuse.
During the performance, observe how the use of the whip intimidates and controls the tigers. Observe how the bullhook – think of a sharp, thick fireplace poker – is used to intimidate and control elephants. They’ve been hit and stabbed with it in training; they fear it.
And should you be inclined to pay extra to put your child on the back of an exploited, beaten-down circus animal, you might think twice after viewing video of stressed-out elephants running amok as handlers beat them with bullhooks, desperately trying to regain control (Vimeo: “Out of Control – Abused Elephants Fighting in U.S. Circus”).
Simply put, circus animals are slaves. When we go home after the show, they go back to cages and chains. Compassion for these kindred animals demands that we reject this cruelty and find kinder entertainment. Justice demands that they be retired to sanctuaries. This will happen only when people are willing to say, “This is wrong. I won’t be complicit in this abuse.”