A Two-Leg Limit: Banning Animals in the Circus

June 11, 2009
By Becca Leibowitz BRONZE, Hartsdale, New York
Becca Leibowitz BRONZE, Hartsdale, New York
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

I don’t know many people who find death fun or entertaining. Edwin Rogers Schooley’s parents certainly didn’t when, while attending the circus, their five-year-old son was crushed by Dolly the elephant. Dolly was then killed as well for this horrific act (“Circus & Ride Elephant Incidents”). Edwin is only one of the fifty-seven people who have been killed by captive elephants since 1990 (“Circus Animals”). So why do circuses, created for fun and entertainment purposes, continue to allow death? Despite their economic implications, no animals should perform in the circus.
“Sink that hook into ‘em. Don’t touch ‘em, hurt ‘em!” instructs Tim Frisco, an elephant trainer for Carson and Barnes circus. To get the animals to stand on their head, jump through a hoop, walk on their hind legs—maybe abuse really is the only way to teach them; I wouldn’t know. But the training methods are not safe, and neither are the acts that the animals perform.
Imagine living in a trailer with no windows or air conditioning in August. Eight llamas and three elephants, property of King Royal Circus, did. Heather, one of the elephants, died in August 1997. The temperature inside the trailer: 120 degrees (“Circus & Ride Elephant Incidents”). Between 1992 and 2004, “11 Ringling Bros. elephants have died in all, and other animals in the circus haven't fared much better” (Merritt). The space that each animal has to move around between shows is miniscule: “often less than 2.5 square meters per lion, tiger or leopard” (“The Circus, Animal Care, Animal Shelter Ireland”).
Between the pain and the discomfort, it’s no wonder that the animals, like humans, get stressed. As young animals taken away from everything they’ve ever known to a strange, dangerous place, of course they have trouble controlling their actions. Symptoms of anxiety that have been observed include chewing on the bars of their cages and walking in circles (“The Circus, Animal Care, Animal Shelter Ireland”).
The Animal Welfare Act, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, was signed into law in 1966. Section 2.131 states, “Physical abuse shall not be used to train, work, or otherwise handle animals” (“Animal Welfare Act”). However, the abuse continues in circuses such as the Ringling Bros. Despite USDA attempts to surprise the circuses with their inspections, former Ringling employees say that they always knew when inspectors were coming; this allowed them to make the circus appear perfectly safe when examined, only to go back to their harmful ways immediately following the assessments (“Animals Are Not Ours for Entertainment”).
Some say circuses wouldn’t survive without animals. But look at Cirque du Soleil! With unbelievable juggling, balancing on chairs, contortion, tightrope walkers, and so much more, animals are neither needed nor harmed (“Acrobatic Acts and Art of Clowning”). Since 1984 when Cirque du Soleil was created, over 33 million people have attended their circuses (“Cirque du Soleil”). Clearly, circuses can thrive without any animals whatsoever.
The United States is ahead of other countries in many ways—but not ahead of Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, Finland, India, and Singapore in banning the use of animals in entertainment (“Animals Are Not Ours for Entertainment”). The USA is a model country for nations around the world. If circus animals are banned here, chances are, other countries will follow our lead.
Animals belong in the wild, not in the circus. The animals are not to blame for the human deaths—humans are. The single reason that circuses continue to flourish is because people continue paying for and going to the circus. The one and only way to prevent the deaths of more humans and animals in the circus is to free the animals who are so physically and even emotionally hurt by their time in captivity. The circus doesn’t need to perform a disappearing act, but we must take the four-legged performers out of the ring and put the future of the circus in our own hands.

Similar Articles


This article has 1 comment.

on Jul. 3 2009 at 4:52 am
Kelsi Baker BRONZE, Kingfisher, Oklahoma
2 articles 0 photos 3 comments
wow i agree with you i never really thought animals were harmed because of being put into circuses now that i think about that i am not happy with circuses thanks for informing me


MacMillan Books

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!