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Banned in Many Countries, But Still Legal in 29 U.S. States

Animal Abuse in Circuses

Story at-a-glance -

  • Mexico City has recently joined six Mexican states in banning use of animals in circuses. The bill, which passed in a 41-0 vote, gives local circuses one year to remove all animals from their acts. After that time, significant fines will be assessed for circuses that break the law. Unfortunately, the ban does not apply to water shows with dolphins, bull fighting, or the use of animals in Mexico's traditional rodeos.
  • Needless to say, circus employees argue against the ban, fearful that thousands of people will be put out of work. Animal advocates and sponsors of the ban are encouraging dissenters to look to shows like Cirque du Soleil for inspiration, and to switch their focus from animal acts to acrobats, comedy, and magic.
  • Countries in Europe and Central and South America have also outlawed the use of animals in circuses; several other locations across the globe ban wild animals specifically. Unfortunately, the U.S. isn’t one of them, however, there are currently local bans of various types in 21 states.
  • For many people working on behalf of animals, it isn’t just the widespread cruel treatment of circus animals that must be addressed, but also the entire practice of using animals for the purpose of human entertainment.
  • There are many things you as an individual can do to make a difference. You can start by refusing to support any operation or organization that exploits animals for amusement purposes.

By Dr. Becker

According to the Los Angeles Times, thanks to a newly passed law in Mexico City, "If you plan to watch a circus in Mexico's capital, you better really like clowns and acrobats."1

Hmm. Let me just rewrite that…

"If you avoid going to the circus because you don't support the use and abuse of animals for human entertainment, soon you'll able to go under the big top again in Mexico City, because the use of animals in circuses has been banned."

There. That's better.

"A respect for living things that are not human."

In response to reports of animal abuse, Mexico City has recently joined six Mexican states -- Colima, Guerrero, Morelos, Yucatan, Chiapas, and Zacatecas – in banning the use of animals in circuses. The bill, which passed in June in a 41-0 vote by the local assembly, gives circuses one year to remove all animals from their programs. After that time, fines of up to $60,000 will be assessed.

Supporters of the bill say that despite the claim by circuses that their animals are treated humanely and even "enjoy" performing, evidence exists to the contrary. According to Global Animal:

"Circus animals are taken from their mothers at birth, forced to live in small confined spaces, and subjected to relentless training (including the inhumane use of bullhooks as torture devices in order to force elephants to perform unnatural tricks)."2

Circus performers in Mexico are of course worried the bill will put hundreds of families out of work, but animal advocates point to the huge success of shows like Cirque du Soleil, which fall loosely into the category of circuses. A Green Party legislator in Mexico City advised circuses to shift their efforts away from animal-centric acts and focus on acrobatics, magic, and comedy appropriate for children.

In a press conference, the politician who sponsored the Mexico City law described it as promoting "a respect for living beings who are not human."

While I would like to believe all the animals currently performing with circuses will be humanely retired to wildlife sanctuaries to live out their remaining years, I doubt that will be the case for many of them. But at least there will no future generations of wild creatures relegated to the role of circus performer in Mexico City. Every small victory is encouraging.

Unfortunately, the bill passed in June only covers circuses and does not apply to water shows with dolphins, bull fighting, or the use of animals in Mexico's traditional rodeos, known as "charreadas."

Circus Animal Bans Around the Globe

According to a recently updated list compiled by Animal Defenders International (ADI), certain countries in Europe have imposed nationwide bans on the use of ALL animals (wild and domestic) in circuses, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, and Greece. Some EU countries have banned the use of wild, wild-born, or wild caught animals; others have local rather than nationwide bans.

In the U.K., over 200 local authorities have imposed bans on animal circuses, with about two thirds outlawing all performing animals, and the remainder banning just wild animals.

In Central and South America, the countries of Bolivia, Columbia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Paraguay, and Peru have nationwide bans on the use of wild, and in some cases domestic animals as well.

Israel and Singapore also have nationwide bans on wild animals in circuses.

In North America, Canada has local bans in 28 municipal jurisdictions. In the U.S., 21 states have partial or full local bans on circus animals.

What You Can Do

At this point, I could provide countless horrific examples of the abuse suffered by many circus animals, but I think I'll leave it to you, if you're interested, to search for that information. Here are a few links to get you started:

Even if every performing animal used to entertain or "educate" humans was able to avoid cruel treatment, the fact is the lifestyle these poor creatures are forced to endure is in and of itself inhumane. One need only observe these animals in the wild and learn a little about their natural behaviors to understand how punishing it is to hold them captive and force them to live and perform in ways that are utterly unnatural for them.

If you feel as I do, then you probably haven't attended any sort of animal "show" in recent memory. Refusing to financially support any operation or organization that exploits animals for amusement purposes is the best way to hasten their demise.

You can also discuss your concerns and the facts you've gathered with family, friends and other acquaintances who don't see the harm in circuses, many zoos, rodeos, bull fighting, whale and dolphin attractions, etc.

If you want to do more, you can consider donating time or money to one of the many animal advocacy groups that campaign against animals in entertainment, including Born Free USA, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Defenders International, or similar organizations in and outside the U.S.