A couple of weeks ago I posted an entry about circuses. And I waxed on about my first awed impressions at the circus when I was tiny, and subsequently as a parent taking my kids to a circus in the Seventies.
Today there was an article in the local community rag about a local family whose circus has been going for four or five years, and it uses animals. No, really. Beauty Without Cruelty and other animal rights groups have kicked up an enormous stink about this circus setting up on a local school’s field and are objecting to the fact that circuses in general and this one in particular use animals in their acts. I couldn’t agree more, when one considers that these animals (which the owners assure us are well treated and they have the SPCA’s stamp of approval so to speak) travel the country in tiny cages for most of their lives, for around 6000 kms a year, – how can that be normal or comfortable for wild things?
There is a kind of unconsciousness we humans like to adopt when it suits us. Sometimes as in my case, one is brought up with circus and zoo animals being out there. (Or, more accurately, in there.) That was the normal way to treat animals.
If that’s how we grew up, we don’t often question it until someone else draws our attention to the obvious.
While I haven’t gone to a circus since the Seventies that includes animals in its acts, and wouldn’t now go to one that does, that is something that settled in my mind only a few years ago. I wasn’t aware that circuses still use animals till I read today’s paper.
The last circus I knew of, in this country was Brian’s Circus which is owned by Brian Boswell, the inheritor of the Boswell-Wilkie mantle (thank you Google) and at the time of the elephant eating my friend’s tie (see blog link earlier) Brian’s Circus had the monopoly.
Clearly there have been concerns raised regarding their use of animals, which it seems they’re also still using. They’ve seen fit to devote a whole page addressing these criticisms, so they probably get quite a bit of flak. Here is their take on the matter.
Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the two camps. The animal rights activists believe that all wild animals should be free, as they were born to be. Perhaps in human terms it’s comparable to an entrepreneur vs an employee. Some animals take to being captive or domesticated, some don’t. The circus believes that their animals are kept in the best conditions possible, that their ‘work’ enriches their lives (but not as much as it enriches the lives of its owners) and that the animals enjoy performing. This is most possible.
Let’s take a wild dog scavenging out there on the plain with its pack, living by its wits, enjoying freedom but also often going to sleep hungry, at the mercy of whatever pestilence visits wild animals or injuries from other predators with whom it must compete for food. Compare it to a domesticated dog sitting behind its gate all day, barking dementedly at whatever passes, living for the return of its owner to relieve the tedium; expecting its meal and maybe its walk and the comforts of a warm cushion at night. (If it’s a lucky dog, that is. The SPCA has its hands and its gas chambers full.)
Or maybe a more accurate comparison in human terms would be (as the wild animal’s counterpart), a single woman living on her own, self-employed and fending for herself, with no pension, no financial cushion, and living by her wits and whatever support and help she can muster from her ‘pack’, loosely constituted as it might be. The domesticated or captive animal could be reflected as some poor soul who’s been unlucky enough to be snared by a human trafficking ring. She has no means of escape and has to see out the rest of her life in anything from a busy brothel where less than enthusiastic co-operation has cruel consequences, to a life of comparative comfort and indolence in a sheik’s harem. Only catch – her life is as much her own as that of any other prisoner. Until she grows old and no longer desirable. What happens then? Is there a farm for old concubines to live out their remaining days in peace, like fortunate donkeys or old cart-horses? Or are they sold off to other men (or women) as child-minders and general domestic workers?
This debate reminds me of the famous original Creature Comforts video, one of my favourite animations (see pic). With a lot of humour it puts across some very valid points that get in under the radar of people’s defences against being preached at. More on topic regarding circuses is this one – Creature Comforts – At the Circus, also by Aardman animations.
But as funny as all these are, the most memorable circus incident I ever read about was one recounted in a little story in the Readers Digest. (You don’t read the Readers Digest? My Dear, you haven’t lived.) The Reader’s Digest aims to put out only good news, – if there are terrible disasters and awful ordeals they are always about some heroic individual overcoming such, leading to positive outcomes. Their issues are getting smaller and smaller. I don’t know what that says about our world. Maybe our issues are getting bigger and bigger with less and less good news stories.
Aaaaaaanyway – this particular story was about a lion tamer and one of his lions. The sentence I can still see in my mind’s eye went as follows: ‘What happened next was both simple and terrible. The lion tamer put his head in the lion’s mouth, and the lion bit it off.’