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How Animals Are Treated In Circuses Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1932 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Circuses started out only having a few acts, which included acrobats, an equestrian rider and a clown act. Over many decades, wild animals such as elephants and cats were brought to the show. Isaac Van Amburgh was the first to step into a cage that occupied a lion, tiger, panther and leopard. He dominated these animals by beating them into compliance. He would dare them to attack him by hitting them with a crowbar as well as thrusting his arm into their mouths. When he was accused of animal cruelty he countered the claims with a verse from the bible, Van Amburgh said “Didn’t God say in Genesis 1:26 that men should have dominion over every animal on the earth?” (Zapletal, 2001, para. 10). I agree that humans should have dominion over animals. However, I don’t agree with beating animals for any reason, what-so-ever. Today, circuses aren’t the same as they were many decades, or even centuries ago. Petra Jackson, ringmistress at Circus Mondao said “People have got to open their eyes and see what circus is about now and not what it was about thirty years ago. I really do think it is snobbery. You can go to a county show and see people doing dog agility, but when you see people going dog agility in a circus it all of a sudden becomes wrong” (Miller, 2009, p. 166). I agree with this statement; circus animals aren’t treated cruelly and watching circuses aren’t any different from watching a dog agility course at a dog show.

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“The circus community argues that animal shows are an important part of our cultural heritage, that the animals only perform natural behaviors and are kept to the best possible welfare standards” (Miller, 2009, p.165). However, “Animal rights organizations argue that subjecting animals to training and transport between venues for entertainment is unethical” (Miller, 2009, p. 165). I value animal welfare over animal rights. I believe that animal rights activists tear down the purpose of everything having anything to do with animals, and they take it all too far. Many times, animals benefit from their human caregivers. In many instances, humans have rescued injured wild animals, and put them in captivity, such as zoos, and this is what saved their lives, because an injured animal would never survive on its own in the wild. Circus animal trainer Ramon Esqueda believes animals in captivity live longer lives than those in the wild. Although I could not find statistics on whether this is true or not, when breaking it down, it could be possible. Animals in captivity don’t have to try to find food amongst the many other animals, and risk starvation. They don’t have the risk of a predator killing them, or the risk of a lost battle over their prey. Animals in captivity are also monitored by veterinarians.

If the circus is a respectable, decent circus the animals will be taken care of. They’ll be trained properly, without being abused, and they’ll have standards for how often their veterinarians check the animals. I have found stated that “Wild elephants seldom have foot problems because they usually walk long distances. Performing elephants spend much of their time chained in place without sufficient leg motion to help circulation, which can lead to degenerative joint disease and other problems” (Wedderburn, 2010, para. 3). Also, due to the tight spaces these animals are mentioned subject to, it is said that they develop rotting, due to their urine, on their feet and legs. This could be very likely, because I do know that urine, if left untouched, can very well harm one’s skin. However, as I’ve already mentioned, if the circus is respectable, they will make it a point to take care of their animals. “Other foot problems said to be found in captive elephants are foot rot, sole cracks, interdigital calluses, hoof overgrowth, cracked nails, infected cuticles, overworn soles, and puncture by foreign objects” (Wedderburn, 2010, para. 3)These problems result from chronically wet, unsanitary conditions combined with the lack of exercise and wear. Furthermore, this cannot be true within a decent circus. If they have qualified vets, those vets would make it a point to keep the elephants’ feet maintained. Also, if animals are kept confined to small quarters, what foreign objects could these animals possibly get embedded into their feet? In other words, Ramon Esqueda mentions that those with animal acts in the circus spend much of their time taking care of their animals. He says “You wake up and take care of your animals, feed and water them, brush them, give them new bedding and clean up their area” (Baker, 2011, para. 16). This doesn’t seem all that much time consuming, however, each animal’s living quarters need to cleaned a couple times a day, and they need fed multiple times a day. It is said that an elephant eats 150-250 pounds of hay a day. This being said, the animals seem to be under a sufficient amount of observation throughout each day. Enough observation, that if an animal were in pain, it would be obvious to the caregivers.

Is the training done on animals within entertainment too harsh? It is said that the animals perform their tricks out of fear. Why would an animal, as intelligent as an elephant, for example, let a human mistreat them, and not try to protect themselves? Similar to a dog, if it gets praise, or treats, any animal will catch on, and they will try to please their master, and enjoy doing so. “During the performance the trainer can only use signals and not direct physical force. The untrained animal must be taught to recognize the signals during the initial training period. By baiting, luring, withholding of food, triggering of escape and aggression impulses or by direct physical force using whips, goads, spikes, heat, muzzles or electric prods, the animals are made to repeat the required movements until finally all that is needed is the relevant trigger. Animals have their teeth or claws removed or drugged to make them manageable” (Wedderburn, 2010, para. 17). First of all, how is the audience not going to notice the fact of these animals lacking their teeth and claws? I believe that alone, would be enough to put circuses to an end. Also, if the animals are drugged, how would they be able to perform their tricks? I’m sure a drugged lion wouldn’t be able to jump through a ring of fire, and a drugged elephant wouldn’t be able to stand on its head or walk along a rope! Secondly, it is possible for animals to recognize their signals for what to do. However, if an animal is being beaten in the process, I would assume the animals would be more consumed with fear than focus on learning their signals. In my knowledge, that’s how a dog responds, and even humans who undergo abuse. Furthermore, because humans understand what’s being told, they catch on to the point of what is “wrong”. Animals don’t understand words, as they do understand body language and tone of voice.

“The confinement over long periods and distances, the extremes in temperature change experienced with the constant moving, the noise, movement and lights all add to the fear and stress of the animals. Water and food are irregularly given. Water is rationed to certain periods of the day so that the animals won’t “mess up” the area” (Wedderburn, 2010, para. 15). There are laws for how often animals can be transported without food and water. Animals adapt to travel conditions, such as the noise and movement, therefore, this doesn’t add to their stress. “Esqueda explained he does four to six shows a week with Ringling Bros. and there is often a month or two between performances, especially in the winter. During the winter, they live in Florida and let the elephants have a vacation to roam and relax. Ringling Bros. has a 200-acre Elephant Conservation Center in central Florida that is concerned with breeding, conservation and care of elephants” (Baker, 2011, para. 18-19). Although it doesn’t mention where the other animals go during their time of “vacation”, I’m sure they are treated to a nice break of their own. Therefore, it’s not as if they spend their entire life in a cage just big enough for them to turn around in. They actually get to stretch their legs and do as they please for a decent amount of time, not to mention the exercise they get during each performance. Also, it is mentioned that breeding is done at the Elephant Conservation Center; this is a positive thing, because as stated in the article, there is a concern that Asian elephants may become extinct. There are about 35,000 elephants left in the wild. “Elephants are losing their habitats in Africa and India because of population growth. There are wars in Africa and poachers who kill elephants just for their tusks” (Baker, 2011, para. 21). Although these elephants are being bred into captivity, it is possible to take a healthy animal from captivity and place it into the wild, and they will be able to fend for themselves with their natural born instincts.

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“Circus animals display stereotypical behaviors like zoo animals such as pacing, bar biting, self-mutilation, head rolling, rocking, licking, neck twisting, vomiting, self-clutching and swaying from side to side. Many of us think that these are natural behaviors but they are not. These are signs of mental illness or madness according to animal behaviorists” (Wedderburn, 2010, para. 14). I’ve never been to a circus, but I have been to many zoos, and I have never noticed this type of behavior in any of the animals. In fact, every animal I’ve seen at the zoo has either been eating, playing, roaming, or lying down completely content. Roaming would be the only thing I could imagine an animal rights activist would be concerned about and call “unnatural.” However, roaming is very natural, and there are many reasons I could think of for such behavior. These animals live their days no differently in the wild than they do in captivity, other than the fact that they are fed and they receive daily human contact and veterinary care. An animal in the wild spends all of their time hunting, eating, sleeping and occasionally playing. Other than the issue of space, what is so different between the two life styles that have ever been proven? Circuses are such a big part of today’s culture that, if the trainers were truly abusing their animals, or any injuries were found on these animals, this form of entertainment would not exist to this day. Cases of such mistreatment as stated in so many documents would be all over the news. It wouldn’t be such a game of questioning that which is true, and that which is made up by some animal rights activist that thinks all animals should be kept in the wild. “Such an argument, based on a sound scientific basis, has not been made… There appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments” (Miller, 2009, p. 166). Another concern about circuses is the cost. Prices of tickets for the circus are relatively reasonable. And crowds are so big that this provides them with enough money to travel all over and still provide veterinary care.


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