Hey Hartford, Boycott the Circus!

By Nathan King, Flickr Creative Commons

By Nathan King, Flickr Creative Commons

You may have recently heard some terrible news from the world of circuses. Several trapeze artists for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum, & Bailey Circus tumbled to the ground in front of a Providence, Rhode Island audience on Sunday. When a clamp snapped, eight women—who had been hanging by their hair during a “human chandelier” act—fell 25-40 feet to the ground and on to a man who was dancing below. People were hurt…badly. We wish them a speedy recovery.

And the next stop on the tour is Hartford. So, while there is a little extra attention on the circus—and the questionable working conditions—I thought I’d take the chance to tell you why I will never go to this or any other circus that uses wild animals in its act.

I think it should be pretty obvious today that working in a circus is dangerous for people, but those people have made a very clear choice to join the circus. (Honestly, I don’t even know how one joins the circus in the first place. I never see any job posts for trapeze artists on Monster.com.) Those people still have the right to expect that their employers are doing everything imaginable to keep the performers safe.

Unfortunately, the animals that perform in circuses have no choice about whether or not they perform. Lions, tigers, and bears don’t deserve to spend their lives in small cages while being transported all over the country to perform completely unnatural acts for hordes of screaming children hopped up on cotton candy. That should be enough to keep you from forking over your hard earned money to circuses like this one, but there is more…so much more. Long story short: Animal Abuse.

It’s pretty well established among animal behavior experts that positive reinforcement is the best way to train animals. It’s how police dogs are trained. It’s how animals in zoos are generally trained to cooperate with veterinarians and keepers. It’s how animals are trained to perform for movies and television. Hell, it’s even how those bastards over at Sea World train their animals. But, for some reason, “trainers” at circuses still use force. The best/worst example of this is the bull hook.

You may say, “Elephants are enormous—they probably don’t even feel it when the keepers batter them with the bull hook.” Well, you’re wrong. Elephants are incredibly intelligent and sensitive animals. Females live in enormous extended family groups for their entire lives—so it’s pretty fucking terrible when circuses break up family groups—and have even shown the capacity for mourning their dead. And like any living creature, they are capable of feeling pain.

Watch this documentary in its whole if you want to see how amazing they really are—and just how awful circuses are for abusing them in all the ways that they do.

Lest you think I am a complete ninny who just doesn’t like fun, I am more than happy to offer you a circus alternative. The Big Apple Circus does not use wild animals in its act. It relies on domestic animals—think dogs and ponies—to delight its audiences. These animals are far more suited to life in a circus—or any domestic environment.

So when the circus finally roles into town, I hope you’ll think twice before supporting it. (Also, head over to our Facebook page to join a very entertaining conversation with a whole lot of ignorant misinformed people.)