Chapter 11


There are approximately 20 circuses operating in Britain at present, of which approximately 14 are members of the Association of Circus Proprietors. Each circus with animals has from three to eight animal acts. In the larger circuses 1-4 groups of animals are owned by the proprietors and are semi-permanent. Sometimes even these acts may be hired to another circus. All the other animal acts are hired, usually for the season. Acts trave1 worldwide and there is much exchange between circuses throughout the world. There is a total of approximately 513 animals in British circuses.

The most common wild animals represented in circuses are the elephants and the big cats. Others, such as bears, zebras, camelids, various types of cattle, snakes and primates, go through periods of being popular. The most numerous and popular animal in circus is the horse. Dogs are also well represented.

There are 31 Indian and 6-10 young African elephants in British circuses. The majority of these are female, but there are now males standing at stud. For the other species, there is a slight bias in favour of males in the circus animals, particularly in the horses. The circuses sometimes act as a market for extra males bred by zoos which would otherwise be euthanised (Chapter 3).

Of the carnivores 54% were circus bred - 40% from zoos; 68% of the ungulates were circus born - 14% from zoos. All but two of the elephants were wild caught although the Indians are now between 28-35 years old.

The carnivores, except the dogs, were housed in beast wagons and now have exercise yards when encamped. The space allowance varied from 0.17 - 4.5 cubic metres for an adult lion in the beast wagon. The beast wagons rarely had any cage furniture although shelves are currently being introduced in some. The ungulates were housed in stalls, looseboxes or loose yards in tents. Some were tethered outside and some could run free some of the time. The elephants were shackled habitually in tents, although during my study electric-fenced yards were introduced and some elephants spent the majority of the day in them. Half of the elephants were allowed to move around freely with their handler for approximately 1 hour per day.

Because a circus might have only one of a species, some animals were isolated from conspecifics. However the nature of a moving circus is such that it was not possible for animals or people to be completely isolated. In the zoos and static circuses and winter quarters this was not always the case.

The animals were transported in either their living quarters or horse boxes and converted lorries. No evidence for distress or trauma as a result of transportation was seen as the animals become very used to this.

The animals were adequately fed and they had on the whole good veterinary supervision from the circus and zoo veterinarians. The majority of the animals were in good condition: 90% on tour. However, at the winter quarters 70% of animals were considered not to be in peak condition.

During the past two years 5.4% of the animals had had reported sickness. There was a 0.97% mortality reported to me. These figures are low when compared to farms, zoos and stables.

Drugs and surgery were not used to maintain the system.

The longevity of the animals compared favourably with zoos and domestic animal husbandry systems.

The stockmanship was not always skilled. The stockpeople spent from 1/2 hour to 3 hours per animal per day. The handling of the stock varied from adequate to good.

The training of the animals was generally professional and of high standard and skill. There was, however, insufficient training of the animals going on in many circuses. Some animals had been performing the same routine for some years with no effort to teach them new things. There was no evidence for cruelty, or prolonged pain and suffering during the training of any of the animals I witnessed. Most of the training was done with the aid of positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement (a whip or verbal scolding) was used sometimes, but no more than is usual with a good horse or dog trainer.

There was some evidence for prolonged or acute behavioural distress in some of the animals in some housing conditions. In general, there was not significantly more of this in the circus animals than in zoos or other animal husbandry systems. There was, in the case of the horses, slightly less. However it can be suggested that if the animal husbandry is appropriate and ethologically and ethically sound, there should be no evidence of this. This should be possible to achieve in the next generation of animals with the increasing knowledge of the etiology of abnormalities in behaviour, increasing aggression, neuroses and other behavioural pathologies (Chapter 6).

Certain housing conditions (such as being semi-permanently confined to beast wagons, stalls or shackled) severely behaviourally restricted the animals. Such practices are unnecessary and should and can be eliminated.

Animal welfare organisations have argued that circuses by their nature cause suffering and distress to animals. They have also argued that, even if this were shown not to be the case, animals should not be used to entertain human beings, particularly if they are in the process made to look absurd as this undermines humans respect for them. These are points that have been considered carefully (Chapter 7). The conclusion is that they are invalid, although the campaign against circuses has had a very salutary effect on the circuses themselves and has encouraged them to examine their motives and ideas concerned with the keeping, training and performing of animals.

On the other hand, not all the effects of the campaign to ban animals in circuses have benefited the welfare of the animals. One example of this that I encountered on three separate occasions was that because the council had banned the circus on its grounds, the circus had hired inferior grounds with inferior facilities (less space, very muddy, difficulties in being able to take the animals out etc.).

Much harm was also done to the cause of improving animal welfare as a whole by groups of violent activists (e.g. they smashed up the glass houses of a market gardener in Kent who had been host to a circus the previous week).

This study shows that the welfare of the animals in British circuses, as judged by physical and psychological criteria, is not as a rule inferior to that of other animal husbandry systems such as in zoos, private stables and kennels. It also points out that even if this were to be the case, there is no reason why it should be a necessity of the circus way of life.

It is therefore irrational to take a stand against circuses on grounds that the animals in circuses necessarily suffer, unless they are to take the same stand against zoos, stables, race horses, kennels, pets and all other animal-keeping systems.

There is, however, an argument to be made against the use of animals at all by human beings. This has three major objections. Firstly, it is unrealistic and would require a complete rethink of all of human society, and secondly, it would inevitably result in an even more anthropocentric world and further rapid animai extinctions because of conflicting interest of land use with humans. There is a third, and to my mind major, objection to this approach, and this is that many humans lives would be substantially impoverished if they were not able to associate with, and even live with animals. It can also be argued that many animals lives may well be impoverished equally because they have no contact with human beings.

The arguments for wild animals having special status have been examined, and it is concluded that there is no reason to assume that this should be so, or that only natural behaviour is good. The individua1s past experience is much more important to consider in designing the environment rather than the species traditional character of being wild or domestic.

It is relevant here to point out arguments for circuses in terms of animal welfare. Here we are examining what circuses could do, not necessarily what they do do.

Circuses ensure a close relationship between individual animals of different species and individual human trainers and stockpeople. This is because when on the road they must effectively live together 24 hours a day in close encampments, and secondly the animals are trained to perform, which inevitably ensures direct contact between the species. At its best this working relationship does not necessitate domination of one species over the other and could and should leave room for the animals innovative abilities and self-expression. In this way, the training and performance of the animal can emphasise both the particular species and individual characteristics and can educate the human audience in the cognitive abilities and uniqueness of the species; while at the same time, respecting the individual.

There is little doubt that the close association with individual animals that is possible in the circus is of considerable value to the people directly concerned. It is also possible that the animals themselves may find the training or educating intellectually interesting and gain from it. This may be a reason why there is not more evidence of distress in circus animals kept in restricted and confined conditions. It is nonsense to say that circuses cannot play a role in conservation. To date they have not been active in this direction, but then nor had zoos until Jersey Zoo pointed out the possible role in breeding endangered species. There is however dispute as to whether this is a worthwhile aim.

It should be remembered that the reason why the dolphins and whales are receiving so much of the conservationists attention is because of their demonstrated cognitive abilities, and their popularity often as a result of the public seeing them performing feats in aquaria. There are many other animals which are equally or more seriously threatened (e.g. the black rhinoceros, or the Orinoco crocodile) but which have not come to the publics attention because they have not demonstrated their cognitive abilities in the same way... they are not considered as intelligent.

Circuses could have an important role to play here, particularly in relation to the elephants and some of the threatened big cats. I see this role not only in breeding the endangered species (which as in the case of the snow leopard they have already had some success with) but in raising public interest to the plight of species by demonstrating their special cognitive abilities.

Circuses are perfectly placed to do research on cognition: how and what different species can learn; how and what they think, and how they perceive the world: their telos. They are well placed to do research on the effect of past experience and imprinting since they breed and rear several wild and domestic species. They can also collect much information on individual differences within species, and personality profiles.

Finally, they are uniquely placed to be able to do research on the human-animal relationship with both wild and domestic animals, and to learn much from the close association and familiarity from the animals about both humans and animals.

In this way they could have an important role to play in educating the public and heightening the respect for individual animals, their unique intelligences and amazing abilities.

On balance, I do not think that the animals best interests are necessarily served by money and activities diverted to try and ban circuses or zoos either locally or nationally. What is much more important is to continue to encourage the zoos and circuses to improve their animal welfare along the lines pointed out in Chapters 9 and 10, and to back some inspection to ensure certain criteria are met in the animal

keeping and training. In this it is important to mention that there should be no discrimination in favour of the larger zoos and circuses; some of the small ones were found to have high standards.

There is no doubt that this project has had a considerable effect on the upgrading of the animal husbandry in circuses at least, and on making the circus people think about the problems. For example, during this time the circus veterinarian introduced a series of requirements for inspection (see Appendix 1), which has been updated subsequently. Electric-fenced enclosures were introduced for the elephants. Exercise yards became necessities for the carnivores. The proprietors are now considering electric-fenced enclosures for more of the hoofed stock and horses, and one proprietor is consulting me on how to integrate previously stalled horses into a social group. Some further thought is going into the animal acts in order to display the species particular characteristics.

Animal training sessions have become open to the public in a couple of circuses, and some educational material for the public on species and individuals is in preparation. The training of trainers and stockpeople is being considered but a more thorough training certificate for zoo and circus staff is essential.

There are still many improvements that could be made, particularly at the winter quarters. One constructive approach would be for the animal welfare organisations to offer an annual award, with accompanying publicity, for the circus which has the best animal husbandry and most appropriate animal acts to enhance the species and display the animals abilities. This has already been instigated for zoos [171].

Finally, let me reemphasise that the animal husbandry and environmental design for the animals in zoos and circuses needs to be improved, along the suggested lines. Let us hope that this occurs over the next decade and thereafter we continue to develop in our understanding and development of Animal Rights, as we continue to keep a watch on Human Rights. Ethically, ecologically and ethologically acceptable ways of inter-species associations are possible and desirable, and they could develop even in zoos and circuses. For this to happen, though, such institutions must change, not be banned.

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