Thursday, 19 June 2014


“For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.” - Henry Beston

When I lived in Europe I went to marvellous performance by a group called Cirque du Soleil. This is a fantastic troupe that has taken the circus and has made it a new scintillating and mesmerising spectacle. It did away with many of the traditional circus offerings (for example, no animals are used) and has created a show that relies on the amazing abilities of the human body. As well as showcasing incredible feats of acrobatics, juggling, balancing, tight-rope walking, dancing and clowning around, each show is based on a theme and there are underlying higher level messages running through each themed performance.

For example, the first show I saw in Europe was called “Saltimbanco” and was designed to be a celebration of life. It was “…conceived as an antidote to the violence and despair so prevalent in the 20th century, this phantasmagoria offers up a new vision of urban life, overflowing with optimism and joy. Saltimbanco is anything but linear; rather, it is a kaleidoscope, a whirlwind, an adventure in which anything can happen. Saltimbanco has its own special language, and its spirit is conveyed through voice, movement and music.”

Advertising hype aside, I think it exemplifies how even something like entertainment can keep up with the spirit of the times. Now that most civilised people around the world are beginning to be sensitive to animal rights, now that exploiting animals and torturing them has become a behaviour that is not only unacceptable but in many countries around the world illegal, a company like Cirque du Soleil has altered the way that we perceive traditional circus entertainment. Although the animal acts are gone, the entertainment that has been constructed in their absence has proved to be enchanting and spellbinding.

Many circuses still use animals in their shows. The species most commonly involved are elephants, tigers, bears, lions, horses, ponies, dogs, crocodilians, various snakes and non-human primates (usually macaque monkeys or chimpanzees). Occasionally, zebras, giraffes, hippopotamuses and camels can also be found in circuses and travelling shows. The physical and practical constraints of the travelling circus environment result in animals being either chained or confined to transport cages or “beast wagons” at virtually all times when not performing. They are forced to defaecate, urinate, eat, drink and sleep all in the same tiny area.

Most wild or non-domesticated animals retain a need to engage in their instinctive behaviour patterns. Prolonged confinement frustrates these behaviour patterns, and can lead to serious psychological distress and the development of abnormal behaviours. Abnormal aggression, apathy, self-mutilation, and stereotypic movements such as head-weaving, rocking from side to side, bar-licking and pacing are relatively common in performing animals, and are indicative of an abnormal environment.

Trainers routinely dismiss suggestions that they mistreat the animals under their care, pointing to the fact that their animals represent a substantial financial investment, and abuse would jeopardise that investment. Moreover, they argue, it would be dangerous for trainers to abuse wild animals, along side they would later have to perform. However, many past trainers have come forth with shocking reports of animal abuse. For example, former animal trainer Pat Derby reports having witnessed “…elephants being beaten and electro-shocked in the vagina, ears, mouth, and anus; bears’ noses broken and their feet burned, and big cats being struck with wooden bats.” (see:

It’s time that we as humans become humane. Not only towards our fellow human beings, but also towards the other animals that share this planet with us. The arguments for using these animals for entertainment are simply not logical, compassionate, civilised or intelligent. Animal-free circuses are not only possible, but more entertaining and are thankfully becoming more widespread.

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