By Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Leading animal protection organization Animal Defenders International (ADI) has stated that the escape of three circus elephants from the Moolah Shrine Circus in St. Charles, Missouri, damaging a number of vehicles in the Family Arena parking lot, demonstrates the terrible risks to which circuses with wild animals subject the public, staff and animals.
Jan Creamer, ADI President: “The use of wild animals in traveling circuses compromises both public safety and the welfare of the animals. Thankfully, this time, no one got hurt.”
The elephants reportedly escaped from the area of the circus offering children’s rides and damaged the venue’s loading door before rampaging through the parking lot. An eyewitness reported the elephants were “breaking mirrors off, pulling panels off, breaking the windows out” of vehicles as they ran through the lot (1).
Jan Creamer: “Seeing the severe damage done to vehicles shows how powerful these animals are. If the elephants were being used for children’s rides at the time, the consequences might have been tragic. Workers and members of the public have been killed and maimed when circus animals have escaped (2).”
Last year at the same venue, the Moolah Shrine Circus (performing as Royal Hanneford Circus) featured the Hall’s Bears act which ADI exposed last September (3) revealing how the bears routinely have muzzles strapped around their mouths, are made to dance and perform demeaning tricks, and spend around 90% of their time caged in tiny cells in their transporter.
Using wild animals in circus acts has declined in popularity worldwide as the public and policy makers become aware of the inherent suffering caused to the animals, in addition to the public safety risks such acts pose. Twenty-five countries around the world now have national restrictions on the use of performing animals in place, with several more under discussion (4).
Last year, ADI launched a campaign against elephant rides at county fairs and other events (5).
In the DVD “No Fun for Elephants,” narrated by Emmy award winning TV host Bob Barker, ADI documents elephants being beaten and electric shocked during training and handling, behind the scenes. The same trainers are then shown controlling the elephants as they give rides and make appearances at parades. As a result of the campaign elephant rides have ended at: Bristol Renaissance Faire, Grays Harbor County Fair, Jaycees Gregg County Fair, Lake Renaissance Festival, Upland Lemon Festival, Los Angeles County Fair, Orange County Fair, Fountain Valley Easter event, Santa Ana Zoo and the Sierra Madre Independence Day parade (6).
Animal Defenders International http://www.ad-international.org With offices in Los Angeles, London and Bogota, ADI campaigns across the globe on animals in entertainment, providing technical advice to governments, securing progressive animal protection legislation, drafting regulations and rescuing animals in distress. ADI has a worldwide reputation for providing video and photographic evidence exposing the behind-the-scenes suffering in industry and supporting this evidence with scientific research on captive wildlife and transport. ADI rescues animals all over the world, educates the public on animals and environmental issues.
Background – worldwide movement to end use of wild animals in traveling shows The evidence that the suffering caused to wild animals by the constant travel, severe restrictions on movement and unnatural lifestyle has prompted authorities and governments around the world to end their use.
In the United States, 38 cities/counties in 18 states have taken action to restrict wild animals from traveling circuses. And around the world, hundreds of local ordinances are in place, including in the UK, Europe, and South America.
National restrictions on the use of wild animals, or selected species/uses have been adopted in 25 countries including: Austria, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Malta, Slovakia, Sweden, Portugal, Taiwan, Singapore, Bolivia, Peru, Costa Rica, India, Israel and others. Similar laws are being discussed in: the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Brazil, Chile, and Norway.
Whether it is a traveling circus, or travel from county show to county show, the confinement for the animals is the same:
- Traveling circuses cannot meet the physical, psychological or behavioral needs of wild animals, due to severe confinement, physical and social deprivation, long periods of time in transporters, with brutal control methods and physical violence.
- It is a myth that wild animals are trained with kindness and reward; the tools of the trade include stun guns and other electric prods, metal bars, whips, bullhooks (a heavy bar with a sharpened point and hook), deprivation of food and water and intimidation.
- Keeping stressed, large and dangerous wild animals close to the public in lightweight, temporary enclosures has proven disastrous. Workers and members of the public have been killed and maimed; lions, tigers and elephants have all escaped.
- It is estimated that around 12% of Asian and 2% of African elephants in North America have tuberculosis (TB), a disease transmissible from elephants to humans.
- Because of the traveling nature of the circus, animal welfare officers have difficulties with protecting the animals, inspections and associated time and costs. This justifies a restriction, for the protection of the animals and the public.
- Circuses must change with the times. Human only circuses are thriving. Cirque du Soleil now has 19 shows in 271 cities, generating an estimated $810 million a year. Whereas the wild animal traveling show, Piccadilly Circus, recently canceled performances across Southern California due to poor ticket sales.
- Circus workers perform multiple roles; staff can be retrained, so jobs are not lost. Circus Vargas removed their animal acts and the business continues. Surveys have shown that a decline in animal circuses can be matched by a rise in circuses with human performers.