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Here's What's Wrong with the Circus

For animals “trained” in circuses, there is no such thing as “positive reinforcement”—only punishment, deprivation, torment and torture

The circus is an animal-slavery enterprise. The issue of an animal-oriented circus being abusive is moot. In his book The Circus Kings, Henry North Ringling, a founder of the The Ringling Brothers, stated, "It is not usually a pretty sight to see the big cats trained. When the trainer starts off, the animals are all chained to their pedestals, and ropes are put around their necks to choke them down and make them obey. All sorts of other brutalities are used to force animals to respect the trainer and learn their tricks. The animals work from fear."

In the Ringling Bros. and other circuses, baby elephants are separated from their mothers in order to break their spirits; they are subsequently tied with ropes, and prodded with bullhooks and electro-shock devices to make them obey.

It is impossible to use positive reinforcement with purely wild animals like elephants, lions, bears and tigers. Violence is the only way to make wild animals perform unnatural tricks. Training sessions are comprised of beatings in order to establish superiority. Blackjacks, hooks, iron bars, whips and sticks are used to beat the pride out of animals. That's why all circus trainers carry weapons like elephant hooks—which are pick-axe like devices—and whips for the lions, bears and tigers. In 1998, during a Shrine Circus protest in Detroit, a police officer even pulled out his gun and threatened to shoot me for displaying an elephant hook to passersby. The hooks and whips are weapons!

In the wilds of Africa and Asia, elephants walk 20 to 50 miles a day and take mud and dust baths as part of their natural behavior. However, elephants in the circus have their front, left legs and back, right legs chained up at all times when they are not on stage doing idiotic tricks. Not only can they not walk 20 to 50 miles a day, they can't even take one step. For image reasons, some circuses have started keeping elephants behind electrical fences. But these areas are unsuitable for two pound toy poodles let alone 5,000 pound elephants.

Lions, bears and tigers fare no better. Circuses cage them like prisoners. The result of the constant confinement is sad. Most animals in the circus develop neurosis and exhibit neurotic behaviors. Elephants sway from side to side. Lions, bears and tigers pace back and forth in their cages and sometimes engage in self-mutilation.

Once again, this unfortunate BABY animal is hogtied and made to submit with the threat of being impaled by a bullhook. What sort of “humanitarian” drives a sharp implement through the skin of a defenseless baby?

The transportation process is ridiculous as well. Animals are shipped year-round from city to city in semi-trucks and railway cars. The semis and rail cars are without electricity, so every trip is in complete darkness, without air conditioning if it's warm and without heat if it's cold. Furthermore, if being chained up, caged up, dominated, humiliated and enslaved isn't horrible enough, larger circuses—like The Shriners, Royal Hanneford and Ringling Bros.—deny animals sunlight when they perform in Midwestern arenas, even during the spring and summer months. These circuses perform for three to 21 days straight at The Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit and The Palace in Auburn Hills and keep animals in the warehouse area during their Michigan visits.

Vegan civil rights humanitarian Dick Gregory once said, "When I look at animals held captive by circuses, I think of slavery. Animals in circuses represent the domination and oppression we have fought against for so long. They wear the same chains and shackles." This quotation is excerpted from an editorial written by Gregory, published in the Marin Independent Journal, April 28, 1998, and which appears just below this section.

And an undercover investigation of the Carson & Barnes Circus shows some of the most disturbing 'training' footage ever. The audio/video shows Tim Frisco, of the Carson & Barnes Circus, teaching future elephant trainers how to dominate elephants and make them submit. Frisco is caught on tape clearly saying, "Make him scream. Don't touch him. Hurt him. If you're scared to hurt him, don't come in the barn. When I say rip his head off, rip his fucking foot off, it's very important that you do it. When he starts squirming too fucking much, both fucking hands—BOOM (as he swings the hook like a baseball bat)—right under the chin! When he fucks around too much, you fucking sink that hook into him and give it everything you got. Sink that hook into him. When you hear that screaming, then you know you got their attention. Right here in the barn. You can't do it on the road. I'm not going to touch her in front of a thousand people. She's going to fucking do what I want and that's just fucking the way it is. I am the boss. I will kick your fucking ass." (Don't take my word for it; this undercover footage appears at the end of the video at the top of this page.) Frisco and his two brothers learned the trade from their father, Joe Frisco, who spent a lifetime beating elephants for many circuses, including Ringling Bros.

Only support all-human circuses like Cirque Du Soleil and Cirque Ingenieux!

Artwork by Roger Olmos • Courtesy of Roger Olmos, FAADA ( and Logos Edizioni

The Circus: It’s Modern Slavery

By Dick Gregory

When I worked as a civil rights activist with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., we sought justice through peaceful means. I was a participant in all of the "major" and most of the "minor" civil rights demonstrations of the early '60s, including the March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery March. Under the leadership of Dr. King, I became totally committed to non-violence, and I was convinced that non-violence meant opposition to killing in any form.

I felt the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" applied to human beings not only in their dealings with each other—war, lynching, assassination, murder—but in their practice of killing animals for food and sport.

There are simple steps each of us can take to eliminate the exploitation of other beings. One is to refuse to go to any circus that uses animals. When I look at animals held captive by circuses, I think of slavery. Animals in circuses represent the domination and oppression we have fought against for so long. They wear the same chains and shackles. No matter what the circus folks tell us, there is no way to persuade an elephant to "dance" or a tiger to leap through hoops without some threat of punishment or violence. Big-cat trainers carry whips; elephant handlers use bullhooks—a sharp, hooked metal tool used to poke and jab sensitive spots. Behind the scenes, trainers often use electric stunning prods and heavy sticks to make their point.

This photo clearly shows the baby elephant's skin being punctured with a bullhook. If you didn't realize before how vicious and vile the circus industry is, you do now.

Circus animals may be fed regularly. They may even have a veterinarian to look after them. But this doesn't make life easy for them. They are caged and shackled and forced to work when the boss says so. They never have even a taste of freedom, but go from cage to circus ring to cage. They travel thousands of miles during the performing season, which means long hours in boxcars or tractor trailers with no room to stretch, let alone run.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey are two of the most famous and profitable circuses in the world. Even so, it has been cited for violating the Animal Welfare Act (the only federal law protecting animals in performing shows) more than 100 times.

This year already, two Ringling animals have died on the road. One was Kenny, a baby elephant forced to perform in two shows and appear in a third in one day even though he was ill. After the third show, he lay down and died. Kenny was only 3 years old and would have stayed with his mother in the wild for up to 15 years.

The other casualty was a tiger being used in a Ringling publicity photo shoot. When the tiger attacked one trainer, the other trainer on the scene returned the animal to his cage, got a gun and shot the big cat to death.

Both of these deaths could have been prevented, and not simply because the situations should have been handled better by those in charge. They were unnecessary because the animals should not have been imprisoned in the first place. As Alice Walker writes, "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men."

Animals and humans suffer and die alike. Violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel and brutal taking of life. We don't have to be a part of it.

Bolivia Bans Wild and Domestic Animals in Traveling Circuses

NOTE: As you read this story, please recognize that none of the changes in these or related laws would have been possible without the efforts of undercover agents taking part in DIRECT and ILLEGAL activity on behalf of animals.

LA PAZ, Bolivia, July 14, 2009 (ENS)—Bolivian President Evo Morales has signed the world's first law prohibiting the use of both wild and domestic animals in traveling circuses.

This is the first national law to ban the use of both domestic and wild animals in circuses. To date, Croatia, Singapore, Austria, Israel and Costa Rica have all banned wild animals in circuses. Similar bans on animal use in traveling circuses in Costa Rica, Finland and Denmark only prohibit the use of wild animals or certain species.

The Bolivian law, signed earlier this month, was tabled by Congresswoman Ximena Flores of Potosi. It is expected to be published shortly.

The law arose as a result of evidence gathered during an undercover investigation by the nonprofit Animal Defenders International.

If this sort of animal abuse wasn't institutionalized by the circus industry—or if these cowards were caught doing this to a dog, or a human infant—they would be locked up in prison, not “gainfully employed” by an entertainment enterprise.

Investigators found lions confined in a tiny cage on the back of a truck—two were pregnant but were forced to continue to perform. ADI videos show circus employees beating a lion in the circus ring with a baton and beating a caged lion with a metal pan. In one video, a caged lion was jerked by a chain around its neck by circus workers outside the cage, causing visible pain.

Three brown bears were kept in tiny compartments measuring just 2.5 × 3 meters (8.2 × 9.8 feet) inside a cage on the back of a truck. Their only exercise was the walk to and from the ring for their short performance. There were no safety barriers to protect the audience as the animals were made to dance, play dead and ride a bicycle.

Other ADI videos showed circus employees beating a wolf and a llama in the circus ring.

The findings of the investigation were presented to the Bolivian Congress together with a report from Animal Defenders International on the scientific evidence of suffering of animals in traveling circuses, The Science on Suffering.

The new law bans the use of wild and domestic animals in circuses in the Bolivia, as their conditions and confinement are considered acts of cruelty.

The circuses will be allowed one year to adapt their shows to a humans-only program and during this time, the government will issue regulations on confiscation and monetary sanctions for any breaches of the law.

ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer said, "This is a truly historic day for circus animals. The undercover investigations, the scientific research and the hard work of our supporters in Bolivia have made a difference for animals that will reach around the world."

"Bolivia is the first country to ban animal circuses in South America and the first worldwide to ban both domestic and wild animals in circuses," said Creamer. "We applaud President Evo Morales for setting the highest standard for animal protection for South America, which the rest of the world now needs to follow. We also salute the efforts of Congresswoman Flores and all the local organizations and who along with ADI worked tirelessly to ensure that the bill became a law."

Groups in Bolivia that worked alongside ADI on the campaign for the new legislation include: Focomade, Vida Silvestre, Biosfera, Codac, Zooprama, Anima Naturalis-Bolivia, Gaia Pacha, EBA-Bolivia, and Animales SOS, among others.

The photographs of the abused baby elephant are courtesy of Occupy for Animals. Please read the tooltip for each one . . . and vow that you will never take your children to an animal circus again!

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