With the monumental (if not late) decision by Ringling Brothers circus to retire performing elephants, Jordan Rivkin wants to see similar progress here.
There are few things sadder than the sight of an elephant, adorned in some bejewelled headdress, performing demeaning tricks at the behest of some garishly attired buffoon. Well, step right up to Ringling Brothers circus. The hackneyed music, the forced merriment, the raucous laughter as sequinned elephants are forced to balance precariously on tiny pedestals…it’s a veritable nightmare under the big top, and one that’s mercifully coming to an end.
The Ringling Brothers circus, dubitably dubbed The Greatest Show On Earth, announced this week that after more than a century of elephant acts, the company would finally bring them to a close this coming May. Whatever the company’s spin on this welcome development, it’s clear that it has finally acquiesced to the public’s growing unease over the use of exotic animals in circus acts. Fortunately, as more and more local governments across the US have passed various anti-circus ordinances, it has become increasingly difficult for Ringling Bros to continue peddling their cruel wares.
The company has long been dogged by claims of animal abuse, with circus animals routinely subjected to gruelling months on the road, extended periods of confinement in small enclosures, and barbaric training methods, including the controversial use of bullhooks. The company strenuously denied any claims of cruelty, but after the monumental fall from grace of SeaWorld in the wake of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, the writing was clearly on the wall…Americans no longer have any appetite for the exploitation of animals in the name of entertainment.
This change in the public’s mood has manifested in a staggering decline in attendance numbers at SeaWorld, which reported an 84 percent collapse in profits in 2015. In fact, such is the shift in public attitude that the California Coastal Commission recently banned the breeding of orcas at the theme park, and a California congressman has introduced a federal bill that could see an end to orca captivity across the entire nation.
This then begs the question; why is Ringling Bros retiring only its elephants, while compelling its other exotic animals to continue performing? While the small mercy shown the troupe’s elephants is certainly encouraging, its lions and tigers have received no such clemency. Instead, they remain condemned to an indefinite period of suffering in the cloying confines of circus life.
Stolen from the wild as cubs, they are brutally “trained” – often subjected to whips, electric prods and food deprivation in an effort to beat the “wild” out of them – with those resistant to being broken often destroyed. Some animal welfare groups estimate that for every performing big cat, approximately 30 others are dispatched on account of having a temperament unsuitable for training and submission.
Those hapless enough to make it through training go on to endure a life travelling from town to town so that laughing imbeciles may delight in the spectacle of broken animals complying with their tormentor’s demands. The bulk of their time is spent in tiny, barren cages where they are mostly unable to turn around, find shelter from the sun or access water. They sleep where they eat, and they eat where they defecate.
But this dystopian nightmare is not isolated to Ringling Brothers – nor is it only to be found in the US. Big cats are still forced to perform in various jurisdictions around the world, including Australia. Our very own Stardust Circus is currently showing in Gosford, where lions and tigers are again suffering in the name of amusement. Naturally, Stardust vehemently denies any maltreatment of their big cats. However, they fail to understand that even if a lion isn’t physically beaten, the rigours of everyday circus life represent a cruel and unusual punishment for wild animals.
With great difficulty, I’ve come to terms with the fact that humans see cows, pigs, sheep and chickens as befitting such cruel and callous treatment. But I really thought that, particularly in the “advanced” western world, we revered animals like lions and tigers. I thought we considered them majestic, their mistreatment an outrage. But perhaps not. How much blame can be laid at the feet of these businesses when considered against local councils that still permit this brutish, antiquated style of entertainment?
How circus animal acts haven’t gone the way of the bearded ladies and conjoined twins acts of yesteryear is simply beyond me.