What Happens When the Circus Lights Go Out?
THE CURTAIN IS about to fall for the last time on the self-dubbed “Greatest Show on Earth,” America’s biggest and longest-running traveling circus. On Sunday, after 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will pump its caravan brakes permanently. Other traveling circuses may not be far behind.
DO ANIMALS NEED TO BE SAVED FROM THE CIRCUS?
“Wild animals, even if they’re born in captivity, retain all their natural instincts, which are completely thwarted when they are trapped in small cages and shuttled from city to city in trucks and trailers,” says Wayne Pacelle, president andCEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
These stresses are exacerbated by the fact that the animals must perform unnatural physical acts: bears trained to prance on tightropes; elephants made to balance on chairs; tigers forced to jump through flaming hoops. The training, lifelong and relentless, is especially hard on performing animals.It’s the same with any wild animal forced to interact regularly with humans. For an animal to be tamed, it must be “broken” early. For elephants that means being struck with bullhooks—sharp metal poles—from a very early age, until they’re docile enough to follow commands. For elephants in circuses, the training extends further. They don’t just have to be tame enough to give tourists rides—they need to twirl and balance on their hind legs. Every time an elephant doesn’t complete a perfect turn, it may be hit or otherwise disciplined. If a big cat doesn’t behave, it may be whipped and deprived of food.
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