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Aaron McKenna: Animal circuses are a shameful cruelty that you should avoid funding

Hopefully in 100 years we’ll look back on animals in circuses like we now do about Victorian ‘freak show’ performances using disabled people.

Aaron McKenna

THE WATERFORD FIRE service had to be called out to Duffy’s Circus during the week to provide water for sea lions after an unexpected problem with water pressure on the site in Tramore. The fire brigade filled the tank the sea lions are kept in and the show can roll on, presumably to draw in large crowds of August holidaymakers.

There was no animal welfare issue at any time, said an inspector from Waterford Animal Welfare. Animals weren’t short of drinking water and the three sea lions got into their tank promptly.

With all due respect to Waterford Animal Welfare, that is missing the point of ‘animal welfare’ by a country mile. As ISPCA CEO Dr Andrew Kelly told this publication, the incident was further evidence that “circuses cannot provide a suitable environment for wild animals”.

Or, in other words, there is a place where sea lions rarely have difficulty with water pressure. It’s called the sea.

Circuses or other venues that use wild animals in their performances are the type of thing that, hopefully, people in 100 years will look back on about the same way as we consider Victorian ‘freak show’ performances using disabled people. The entire process of what goes into getting a wild animal to play with a ball or perform other tricks is cruel and unusual when you break it down.

Training wild animals

Be it a whale, a sea lion, a monkey or an elephant these animals must be captured in the wild, or bred into captivity. They are kept in tiny spaces compared to what they are used to and designed for in the wild. Typically, circus animals are trained through a mixture of repetition or starvation at the ‘humane’ end of things, and with skin-piercing bull hooks at the other. They are subjected to stressful and abnormal situations on a regular basis. Apart from performing in a giant tent, the animals are regularly put onto the back of trucks and driven around. Not something you’re likely to find an elephant herd doing in the wilds of Africa.

I have no doubt that the likes of Duffy’s Circus treat their animals humanely and care for them as best they can on the road. But there is no guarantee that the animals they have purchased were not captured and trained in the most inhumane fashion imaginable. One of the source markets for trained elephants is India, where the bull hook is a favoured method of training.

Even if Duffy’s are keeping the animals well, the fact remains that three adult sea lions are living in a blue tarp swimming pool. Sea lions typically cruise in water at 17kmh, and can burst up to 40kmh. Three of them stuck in a tank together aren’t going anywhere fast. Outside of circuses, killer whales swim 120km to 160km per day, a little more than the distance between Dublin and Waterford. A killer whale in Seaworld would have to swim around the tank in a circle 1,600 times to get the same range.

Be it a travelling animal circus you meet on your holiday in the south east or somewhere like Loro Parque in the Canaries, where killer whale shows are popular, you are contributing to an industry of misery by paying to see a show.

Conservation and study

Animals are kept in captivity for a number of reasons. Many zoos and aquariums play an important role in the conservation and study of endangered species. Farms play host to domesticated livestock that feed a good proportion of humanity. Circuses and entertainment venues have no practical function other than to provide a good talking point and a few pictures from a day out.

Unlike a human performer, an animal doesn’t head home after a stressful or busy day dancing around the arena. They don’t crack open a beer and watch their favourite programme. They’re not even like domesticated pets, such as a dog who has a loving bond with its owner or that plays an important function like aiding a disabled person.

They’re wild animals that are sociable and intelligent enough to be trained, locked up in a cage and prodded till they perform meaningless tricks.

There have been steps taken by some consciences officials to stop this. South Dublin County Council will no longer allow circuses that use animals on public land. On the other hand, the Arts Council and Meath County Council gave a grant of €20,000 to Duffy’s Circus this year under their annual programming grant.

Money talks

Ultimately, however, the power to stop animal exploitation like this rests with consumers. Some circuses have dropped animal performances, partly in response to consumer pressure.

If you find a circus setting up near you and it uses animals, please don’t go. If you’re in the Canaries or Florida or anywhere else a Sea Life Park is found, just don’t. If the animals are forced out to do a show, perform tricks and entertain then you are furthering animal cruelty by paying to keep it running.

There are lots of other things you can do to pass the time, none of which involve locking wild animals up in cages or putting them in swimming pools.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for TheJournal.ie. He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more about him at aaronmckenna.com or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.

Read:  Fire service called out to water sea lions at circus

Read:  Activists ‘alarmed’ after circus camel walks into traffic in Cork

Read: Dublin council bans animal-act circuses on public land

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