Circus animals live in small cages-4 feet by
5 feet by 6 feet. Barely able to move, they are forced to eat, sleep,
urinate, and defecate in the same small space.
Because circuses depend on travel, the animals
are routinely kept in these cages, traveling thousands of miles,
for upwards of 50 weeks a year.
Animals perform out of fear. Standard training
methods include burning bears' front paws in order to get them to
dance on their back legs and muzzling and chaining bears and big
cats in order to break their spirits. Sometimes, animals' teeth
are removed in order to make them more 'trainable,' further contributing
to confined animals' helplessness. Animals are often intentionally
kept unhealthy and miserable; a trainer with Royal Hanneford Circus
admitted to the USDA that he keeps chimps in solitary confinement
so they will be more 'motivated' to perform when let out.
Training tools include bull hooks, metal pipes,
hotshots, and whips, jagged wooden sticks, electric shock collars,
as well as fists, elbows, and knees. Because these are wild animals,
they will never be completely predictable when performing these
unnatural stunts, so trainers use brute force to maintain a position
of dominance through fear. An undercover video of Carson & Barnes
circus showed trainers attacking elephants with electric prods and
bull hooks until they screamed; trainers are instructed to sink
the pointed hook into the elephant's flesh until they scream in
pain, but to conceal the beatings from the public.
Repetitive and often destructive behaviors such
as obsessive swaying, bobbing, chewing, sucking, weaving, rocking,
and licking are common in circus animals, and are manifestations
of their extreme stress and boredom.
Arthritis and other joint problems are very common
in circus animals, caused by their forced immobility. Stress-based
ailments such as ulcers also plague circus animals.
Abusive training techniques, lack of socialization
and other stimuli, and constant confinement often causes animals
to become so stressed that they become dangerous, lashing
out at trainers and spectators. Deaths and injuries from such
incidents are not uncommon. Since 1990, elephants alone have
killed 65 people and injured over 130 more. Other animals
have also been responsible for injury and death (and the animals
are usually shot or otherwise killed after they attack). The
statistics since 1990: captive big cats (51 human deaths,
170 injuries, 82 cats killed because of the attacks), bears
(14 human deaths, 8 of which were children, 40 injuries, and
26 bears), and primates (2 human deaths, 140 injuries, and
the killing of 450 offending primates). Click here for more
information on Circuses & Public Safety.
Animals are leased seasonally by circuses,
constantly being transported and 'broken in' by new trainers,
perpetuating the cycle of fear and violence even further.
Many circuses do not provide routine veterinary care, and
animals that are too old or disobedient to be useful to the
circuses are permanently relegated to cages, sold to zoos,
roadside attractions, game farms to be hunted for their meat,
research laboratories, or private individuals, often continuing
The Animal Welfare Act provides legal protection
for circus animals, but these standards are minimal and rarely
enforced. It does not prohibit any kind of training method,
including the use of whips, bull hooks, electric prods, or
other devices that cause suffering. The Animal Welfare Act
mandates that animals have enough room to stand up and turn
around, but violations of even this basic standard are commonplace.
In a two-year period, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey
Circus was cited for 65 violations of the AWA.