The Cruelty of Circuses | Teen Ink

The Cruelty of Circuses

December 30, 2013
By Anonymous

Families go to circuses for a number of reasons; to see acrobatics do death defying tricks, silly clowns slamming pies in each other’s face, or to see the exotic animals. The kids don’t know that animals have to endure mental and physical abuse when they are in the circus. Each kid is amazed at the tricks the animals can do and they never ask questions. For example, why would an animal be performing such weird tricks, or how do they live when they have to be constantly moving around? At least I never asked those questions as a kid; I just sat in the audience and enjoyed the show. Behind the mirage of the circus performances there are animals being beaten, forced into cages, get little exercise, and they never have a choice because right from birth animals are destined to be in the circus. More and more people are noticing the facts about circus animals and new circuses are being created that don’t have animals in the acts like Cirque du Soleil. There are still performances that use animals to create a show, such as the Ringling Brothers. Animals shouldn’t have to live with such abuse day after day just to create a performance.


Circus animals receive a lack of exercise when they are on the road traveling that can cause physical stress. Elephant’s natural habitat has territory covering about 2,300 square miles (Enjoy the Circus? The Animals Don’t). At a circus encampment, elephants and other animals are allowed very limited room to move around when they are let out of their small cramped cages. Animals in the circus get some exercise from training periods and brief appearances in the shows but that is not enough. Paws, an organization that protects animals and helps educate people to make a better world for animals, stated, “A captive life in the circus for elephants consists of shackles measuring as little as five feet in length” (Enjoy the Circus? The Animals Don’t). The chains, the elephants and other animals are forced to wear, are to make sure the animals don’t get loose but they could be put in a fenced-in area that allows them more freedom. Paws also wrote, “Virtually 96 percent of their [circus animals’] lives are spent in chains or cages” (Enjoy the Circus? The Animals Don’t). Animals are always trapped, either by their cages or by chains and leashes. Animals such as lions and tigers don’t get let out of their cages unless for performances or training. Animals are meant to be free; to be able to roam around in wide expansions of land. They should be able to rub against a tree when they want or be able to see their own kind to play around with, but circuses don’t allow animals to practice any of their natural instincts.
The lack of exercise can also cause emotional stress for the animals. When animals are let out they are alone with none of their own kind to socialize. The lack of socialization results in endless boredom that can cause emotional stress and frustration for the animal. The frustration then can cause animals to have aggressive behavior. This aggressive behavior means trainers get attacked by the circus animals when they act out because the frustration gets too much for them to bear. The Born Free USA campaign wrote an article about public safety that said, “Since 1990, "performing" elephants have been responsible for 12 human deaths and more than 126 injuries nationwide. During that same time period, there have been more than 123 documented attacks on humans by captive large cats in the United States, 13 of which resulted in fatal injuries” (The Problem with Circuses). This is more proof that not only elephants, but other animals are being pushed passed their breaking points. Circus employees can even see when an animal is at its breaking point because they will start to sway back and forth, swing their head, and pace around in their cages. Animals are not built to be put in cages that cause mental torture of boredom and loneliness.
Cages are the home for an animal in the circus. Not an open cage in the zoo that mimics the animals’ natural habitat but a metal cage that has barely any room for the animal to move. Circuses are on the road for eleven months of the year and animals have to live in the same cage. With nothing to play with in the cages, animals get more bored. Along with the non-spacious room, animals have to deal with constantly changing climates. All animals have different living conditions they are most comfortable at and there is no air conditioning or heating to accommodate these different comfort levels. The Washington Post investigated a case about a young lion that died from heat while aboard the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus train. A fired lion handler said, “Circus officials would not stop the train to cool the animal off despite reports by him and another handler that the 2-year-old lion, named Clyde, and other animals were suffering from intense heat” (Marc Kaufman). The circuses don’t care about animals, only getting to the next show site on time to make their money. Animals shouldn’t have to live in the conditions they are forced to in circuses.


The most physical abuse an animal is put through in the circus is the training they go through. Animals are forced to learn weird, unnatural routines and when they don’t obey the trainer physical abuse is followed. Some circuses like the Ringling Brothers stated, “Our training methods are based on reinforcement in the form of food rewards and words of praise” (Amazing Animals).The Ringling Brothers say they never beat their animals to force them to learn their routines but ASPCA found former circus employees that have reported, “Seeing animals beaten, whipped and denied food and water, all to force them to learn their routines” (Circus Cruelty). Other training methods circuses use are whips, electric prods, hitting, and poking. The Ringling Brothers also stated, “Trainers teach animals routines that showcase their physical abilities and beauty, as well as their distinctive behaviors” (Amazing Animals). A distinctive behavior for an elephant is not to balance on a stool with one foot. Also how does jumping through a ring of fire show the natural beauty of a tiger; it doesn’t, it shows the fear a tiger must go through in order to put on a show for the audience. None of the animals do anything remotely close to what they would do in their natural habitat. Circuses force the animals to go against their natural instincts which are mentally stressful because they are trained to know physical abuse will follow if disobedient. Animals shouldn’t be forced to do tricks that are demeaning and humiliating.
Humans always have a choice to be in a circus, animals do not. Elephants are born in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation just to perform in circuses. The Ringling Brothers say they are helping to protect species on the verge of extinction but the elephants they bred in captivity will never be able to be free. All the elephants will either be used in the circus or stay at the conservatory. The Ringling Brothers also sends retired elephants to their conservatory. This conservatory isn’t an elephants natural habitat; it’s just another type cage they are forced to live in. The conservatory has 200 acres of land but in the wild PAWS says elephants would have 2300 square miles which is 1472000 acres of land. The conservatory doesn’t come close to the amount of space elephants would have. Elephants never have a chance at having a life outside of the circus. Right from birth each elephant is destined to be in the circus. Humans don’t have to preform death defying tricks in the circus but they want to. Men and women also get better care then the animals do. They get hotel rooms to sleep in and animals get put in cages. Circuses don’t have to force animals into performances but they choose to.
There are plenty of other ways people can see animals than in the circus. Circuses once were the only way people could see wild and exotic animals. But there are TV channels such as Animal Planet that show animal in their natural habitat. There are also zoos that allow people to view animals in much better care. There are plenty of circuses that give a thrilling show without the use of animals like Cirque du Soleil and Circus Vargas. The Ringling Brothers use animals to complete the show but people are fighting back to stop them. ASPCA filed a federal lawsuit against the Ringling Brothers in 2000 and 2009. It didn’t stop the circus using animals. The lawsuits are getting people to notice the abuse the animals are put through and more and more people are going to animal free circuses.


As a kid I loved animals in circuses. But this was because I didn’t know what happened behind the scene. Little kids don’t know animals are put through physical and mental abuse day after day. They think animals like to preform but they don’t. The trainers teach animals cruel and unusual tricks by hurting them. Animals are forced to live in tight cages while constantly traveling. The little exercise animals get in the circus isn’t enough. There are new circuses coming out that don’t have animals in the acts and they are still exciting. Circuses don’t need animals to complete a show anymore.



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