NO DOUBT ABOUT it: Irish people have many reasons to be proud – but the potential for Ireland to become a “dumping ground for wild animal circuses”, as the ISPCA have warned, is not one of them.
As more and more European countries introduce bans on wild animal circuses, the caution should not be taken lightly.
Distressing images of treatment
Time and again, undercover investigations have exposed the routine abuse of wild animals by circuses. Who can forget the (Warning: Video may be distressing) harrowing video footage taken by Animal Defenders International of Anne the elephant which shows her being hit with a pitchfork and a club while she was chained up and unable to escape the beating?
And the abuse of Anne is not an unusual case. In 2009, PETA US released photographs taken by a retired circus employee that showed terrified baby elephants, who were forcibly separated from their mothers, bound with ropes, wrestled, slammed to the ground, shocked with electric prods and gouged with bullhooks (sharp steel-tipped devices that resemble fireplace pokers), and there are countless more records and accounts of similar treatment of animals in circuses around the world.
Forced to perform
Anne endured 58 years of abuse before finally being moved to a better environment, but the elephants and other wild animals still exploited by Irish circuses have no such reprieve. Treated as little more than automatons, they’re forced to perform the same meaningless, unnatural and sometimes painful tricks week after week, year after year.
Animals don’t perform painful and confusing tricks by choice. They do so out of a constant fear of violence, because they know if they don’t, they’ll be punished. In the wild, tigers would run away from flaming hoops, not jump through them. And wild elephants are creative, altruistic and sensitive, but has anyone ever seen them doing pirouettes?
Left to their own devices in nature, elephants are highly social beings who enjoy extended family relationships. They draw in the dirt with twigs and mourn their dead.
Behaviourists tell us that they can and do cry from loss of social interaction and from physical abuse. Yes, cry. If you wonder how these magnificent beings keep from going mad when chained, beaten and locked up for years at a time, the answer is – they don’t.
The servitude of animals
A circus environment can never come close to meeting the complex needs of wild animals. You can cage them, chain them and deny them everything they want and need, but the elephants, lions, giraffes and other animals who spend most of their lives crammed into trailers will forever remain wild. They never “get used to” servitude – they know they aren’t where they were meant to be.
Our knowledge of animals and their behaviour has come a long way. We can no longer justify imprisoning them, robbing them of everything that is natural and important to them and turning them into objects of ridicule for our own amusement.
At least 12 local authorities have already introduced bans on the use of council land by circuses, but unless a full ban is introduced that prevents the use of wild animals in circuses altogether, animals will continue to suffer.
In the meantime, we can do our part to help them simply by refusing to support any attraction which exploits animals for human entertainment. For the animals’ sake, the show must not go on.
Elisa Allen is associate director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). She earned her MA in public advocacy and activism at the National University of Ireland–Galway.