Let’s cut to the chase, not many of us are aware of the fact that circuses featuring animals are actually extremely cruel to those lovable creatures. Of course, from the audience’s perspective, the show might seem like an awe-inspiring performance starring some of the most exotic and wild creatures known to man.

Plus, not only is attending the circus a chance to witness some of these creatures in real life, but the wild animals are also trained to present the craziest tricks out there. 

Sadly, circus animals are not treated like the stars they are; in reality, many endure the worst conditions imaginable and receive horrific treatment from the circus in order to learn elaborate tricks and stunts for shows.

To be frank, the majestic performances are nothing more than a cruel display of unmitigated animal abuse accompanied by catchy music and cool lighting effects. 

Fortunately, this article will attempt to expose the extreme horror that is the animal circus and what goes on behind closed doors (or should I say — cages).

So, How Are Circus Animals Treated?

Ironically, the circus doesn’t care about its main attractions; the sooner people realize this, the better. More often than not, these animals show signs of incredibly painful ailments, ranging from mere physical abuse to mental health issues. If you were wondering which kinds of ailments these entail, then check out the following.

Dehydration and Starvation

Ever wondered how animal trainers tame large wild cats, such as tigers or lions, to get them to perform various impressive acts? According to circus cruelty facts, the secret to achieving this lies in something referred to as “Operant Conditioning,” a special type of training method which relies on learning through rewards and punishments for certain behavior.

For instance, when an animal successfully does a trick, it receives a reward (in this case, either food or water). Yet, if it fails, the trainer restrains from giving out anything. This way, the animal learns that in order to receive a reward, it must perform the task the way the trainer wants it to be performed.

Sadly, this circus animal treatment is one of the most common ways trainers establish their dominance, often leading to dehydration and even starvation of the poor creature.

Sores and Bruises

Bet you didn’t know that most cages in which circus animals are kept while traveling are extremely small for the creature inside. Typically, large cats and circus bears are kept in 5×10 foot cages max for around 26 hours. Seeing how the circus is constantly on the road, it is only natural to see animals with severe sores and bruises all over their bodies from repeatedly rubbing against the bars of the cage. 

Animals in the circus that are most affected by tiny cages are lions, tigers, bears, and elephants; often, they are confined to small spaces where they are forced to either stay sedentary or pace up and down for hours upon hours.

Lameness and Arthritis

According to a survey conducted on 62 elephants of Asian descent and 5 elephants of African descent across three separate circus companies and five different zoos, the animals displayed signs of lameness, chronic arthritis, and other rheumatoid disorders.

Animal cruelty circus facts also reveal that the main cause of euthanasia of elephants held in captivity is lameness and foot issues; bit ironic, isn’t it? Just take a look at some of the prior incidence of said abuse.

For one, there was the infant elephant, Kenny, that was forced to perform while being sick and eventually died (as a result); then there was Benjamin, a 4-year-old elephant drowned while attempting to swim in a pond after being tortured with a bullhook; and so on.

Lack of Exercise and Obesity

Being confined to small spaces for extended periods of time, species such as tigers, monkeys, elephants, and ponies are denied certain natural behaviors. According to facts on circus animal cruelty, obesity is one of the main health issues these creatures have to endure.

Unfortunately, the lack of exercise does not only apply to when the circus is on the move but in general; even when the animals are not performing, they are typically locked up in rusty chains.

In fact, some upsetting data has shown that calves undergoing the so-called “breaking process” are usually chained for about 23 hours every day. Considering that wild animals walk an average 30 miles daily, this is tragic, to say the least. Hence, obesity is not only prevalent in humans; animals in circuses are also subject to it.

Tuberculosis

Bet this one caught you completely off-guard! Humans, especially smaller children, can contract tuberculosis while at the circus! The animals that are most susceptible to fatal diseases are, in fact, elephants, which are known to carry bacteria responsible for worldwide epidemics. 

Tuberculosis among elephants in captivity is fairly common and is transmitted through the air, placing anyone that comes in direct contact with the ill animal (whether it be another elephant or human) at serious risk.

There are many instances linking the deadly disease to an infected animal in the circus. For example, tuberculosis-infected circus elephants were connected to a serious outbreak in Tennessee, whereas in 2013, eight workers at the Zoo in Oregon suffered the disease after getting too close to an ill elephant. Unfortunately, circus elephants are highly susceptible to tuberculosis due to constant, stressful transportation conditions, as well as poor water quality.

Inbreeding and Genetic Defects

We can all agree that white tigers are truly breath-taking creatures and a pleasure to look at. However, did you know that they are the perfect example of captivity inbreeding? According to upsetting facts on circus cruelty, lions and tigers that have a white coat can only be “produced” by father to daughter or sister to brother inbreeding. Not to mention that this process goes on for generations on end.

Not only is this an absolutely disgusting thing to do (in general) but the genetic defect that makes the animal’s coat white can also cause different health problems and various other serious defects such as making the white tiger cross-eyed.

Yes, indeed, all white tigers are cross-eyed, the same gene that is responsible for the white coat is also linked with the optic nerve, wiring it to the wrong side of the brain. So, let’s say “no” to circus animal abuse and stop the exploitation of all animals, particularly white tigers.

Zoochosis

Ever wondered why larger animals such as bears, tigers, and lions keep pacing back and forth in their cages? Well, the extreme frustration and the increased mental stress exhibited in animals in captivity, popularly known as “zoochosis,” causes these poor animals to do just that.

Just think of Gus, a polar bear kept in Central Park Zoo, who, in the mid-1990s, worried spectators as he obsessively swam up-and-down his tiny pool, sometimes even for 12 hours a day

Even though the name of the condition implies that only animals kept in zoos are prone to said illness, this is definitely not the case.

Animals in Circuses and 15 Facts Why They Should Be Banned

1. Animal trainers use bullhooks, whips, electric prods, and uncomfortable collars to force the poor creatures to do tricks.

Even though all these animals are subjected to painful methods of training, it seems that elephants have it worst. They are frequently beaten with sharp tools that resemble fireplace pokers called — bullhooks; sometimes the beatings are so violent that they cause the animal to bleed. This cruel method is shown in Peta’s undercover video which depicts the treatment of large animals.

2. According to facts on circus cruelty, circus animals travel 11 months per year in unspeakable conditions.

Not only do these powerless animals travel with the circus for extended periods of time each year, but they also travel long distances in tiny boxcars. Unfortunately, these boxcars usually have no climate control.

Hence, they are forced to eat, defecate, and sleep in the same confined space. Also, during the off-season period, they are housed in tiny crates meant for traveling.

3. The Animal Welfare Act looks out for the treatment of circus animals.

Regrettably, laws regarding the treatment (read: mistreatment) of animals only set up impossible standards that either go ignored or are totally dismissed. To no great surprise, there are a lot of cruel circus companies that are still operational, even though they have been cited plenty of times.

In 2017, the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act was introduced, which required 19 traveling American circuses with animals to either swap to human performers or remain out of business.

4. Circus animals that cannot take beatings anymore end up hurting humans and are eventually put down soon after.

Sometimes enough is enough, and you have to fight back. Unfortunately, when the animals fight back, they end up either shot or euthanized.

Since 2000, there have been over 35 serious cases of elephants escaping circuses and running wild through city streets. These enraged elephants attacked pedestrians, destroyed buildings, and even severely injured some people.

5. Tigers are semi-nocturnal creatures, but they are forced to stay awake during the day.

Animals circus abuse does not only involve beatings and confinement to small spaces. Were you aware of the fact that tigers are actually semi-nocturnal creatures that are only active during the nighttime?

Well, in circuses, tigers are made to perform during the daytime and they are forced to stay awake as long as the handler wants them to. Hence, tigers in circuses live in a highly unnatural way. 

6. 126 big cats in captivity have died in the United States since 1990.

According to facts on the mistreatment of circus animals, specifically tigers, these animals have suffered greatly at the hands of their handlers. The most famous tiger trick entails jumping through flaming rings. Yet, did you know that tigers are naturally terrified of fire?

Hence, we can deduce that captive tigers are, in fact, more afraid of their handlers than the flaming rings.

7. Some circuses do not provide acceptable veterinary care.

The circus business is all about selling as many tickets as possible, cutting corners, and making sure that the show goes on no matter what. Nevertheless, were you aware that the abused circus animals receive poor veterinary care or none at all?

The main reason for this is because quality veterinary care is costly and it does not benefit the budget of the circus. Furthermore, plenty of circuses lease their creatures seasonally from different dealers.

8. Globally, Bolivia was the first country to ban the whole list of circus animals.

Not only did Bolivia manage to ban the use of wild animals in circus performances, but the ban also included domestic animals such as dogs and donkeys. Ximena Flores, the bill’s sponsor, claimed that the ban has a set of fines for these violations and allows the authorities to confiscate the poor animals from abusive handlers. 

9. What are the potential benefits of circus animals? For one, breeding tigers in captivity may decrease extinction rates.

Due to the increasing extinction rates among tigers and elephants, breeding these creatures in captivity may help preserve the species. Of course, this fact applies only when animals (in captivity) receive proper treatment and care.

Another benefit of using animals in shows (as circles see it) is the profit it brings to the table. Animal performances, especially those featuring exotic animals, are extremely popular and these shows are almost always sold out.

10. According to facts on elephants and circus cruelty, these creatures are kept in solitary confinement, even though they live in herds.

In nature, you rarely see wild elephants traveling and living all by themselves. The reason being, elephants are group animals that thrive in herds, typically composed of 6–20 females and calves.

Now, do you remember Disney’s animated movie — Dumbo? The harsh reality is that elephants in captivity are kept in total isolation. Not only that but baby elephants are typically ripped from their mothers between 18–24 months of age.

11. Facts on animal cruelty in circuses show that “Wonder Dust” is used by handlers to hide beating wounds on elephants.

The animals are beaten, punished, and humiliated in order to become more submissive and do the tricks the trainers want them to do. Naturally, the constant beatings can leave ugly and painful wounds on the body that are not appealing to the visitors.

To make things presentable, the circus handlers use a substance designed for the quick-healing of infected lesions and sores. That way, the animal will not bleed during the show, and a bandage is not necessary.

12. The co-developer of The Simpsons, Sam Simon, bought zoos and circuses and shut them down.

Sadly, the circus animals lost a dear friend and a passionate animal rights advocate. Simon, after being diagnosed with colon cancer, joined forces with PETA in drawing up a list and helping as many animals as he could before he passed away.

In his own words, Simon said that he wanted to see captured animals walk in grass for the very first time. Most importantly, Simon managed to shut down some circus companies and even protested against the Ringling Bros. to take circus elephants off of shows.

13. Jumbo, the world’s largest circus elephant was hit by a train after being led to his stall after a show.

According to facts on circus animal abuse, the first circus elephant was sold to the notorious P.T. Barnum in 1865, where he instantly became the biggest star (both literally and figuratively) of the show.

One of his most notable performances included him leading a parade of elephants over the famous Brooklyn Bridge. Unfortunately, after one of his performances in 1885, he was hit by a train and killed on the spot; keep in mind though that back in the day circus performances were held close to the railway yards.

14. Cholita, a circus bear in Peru was abused to such an extent that she lost her teeth, her claws, and even her hair.

Circus animals endure abuse to such a high extent that they may start losing their hair, teeth, or both due to high levels of mental and physical stress. Unfortunately, this was the case with Cholita, an Andean bear illegally kept at a famous circus in Peru, now thriving in the wild.

Cholita was stumbled upon entirely by accident when Jan Creamer, the president of Animal Defenders International, organized a seizure of the Peruvian circus. Even though Cholita has gained her freedom, she still carries the brutal scars of her time in the circus; in addition to that, her toes were cut off and she also suffers from alopecia. 

15. Vicious training tactics are also used on man’s best friend — dogs.

Based on circus animal abuse facts, torture and cruelty do not end with wild animals. Canines, a species known for being loyal companions, are also subjected to painful training tactics, such as the pinching method. So, even though the audience may believe that the trainer is petting the dog during the show, he or she is actually prompting the canine with a sharp, painful pinch.

What Can I Do To Help?

Sign Petitions (lots of them)

Fortunately, there are plenty of petitions out there against animal cruelty in the circus. The easiest way to search for these petitions is by doing quick online research and by showing at least a tiny bit of support.

Educate Others on the Cruelty in Circuses

It is vital to educate adults and children on the cruelty displayed in circuses as this way an increasing number of people can take a stance and speak up for these unlucky creatures. The best way to educate kids on this topic is by explaining the animal’s natural behavior and then contrasting it with the behavior in the circus.

Support Animal-Free Circuses

Say “no” to animal circuses, and encourage circuses featuring only human performers! It is crucial to realize that circuses without animals are much more fun as they do not exploit wild or domestic creatures.

So, if a cruelty-free circus shows up in your town, check it out and show your support. If you want to take it one step further, consider writing a letter to your local officials to stop cruel circus shows in your area.

FAQ

What countries still use animals in circuses?

Even though circuses in Cyprus, Greece, Bolivia, and Malta had banned the use of all animals (both wild and domestic), there are some countries that are still using these poor creatures in their shows.

At the top of the list of countries that still use animals in shows are the US, France, and the UK; although the UK’s Government pledged to ban them in 2012, the individual Conservative MPs still repeatedly block the bills.

What happens to animals in circuses?

The most common and cruel tactic for forcing animals to perform elaborate tricks is by terrifying them with different forms of physical (and mental) punishment. The animals are shocked, whipped, and beaten by their handlers, sometimes on a daily basis, and they are also deprived of water and food.

Also, some trainers even drug the creatures or remove their claws and teeth to make them more “tame.”

What do circus animals eat?

The diet of animals is extremely poor compared to the natural diet in the wild. For example, elephants in the wild typically eat branches, roots, and grass, taking each bite in complete peace. On the other hand, elephants in the circus or in the zoo are given straw, branches, and hay.

Frequently, visitors feed large animals with iconic snacks — such as peanuts and popcorn.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, animals used for entertainment — whether they be wild or domesticated — are poorly treated and the practice should, therefore, be eliminated altogether. Circus animals are heavily beaten and mentally tormented for our pleasure. They are stripped of their natural habitats and most may never see their families ever again.

Hopefully, this article helped you realize that what we, humans, are doing is extremely wrong and unfair towards our fellow living beings. So, please remember to spread the word and share this information with others!

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