ANIMALS IN CIRCUSES
THE RSPCA’S conclusions from the report.
The RSPCA UK concluded from a report commissioned in 1990 that
1) Evidence of stress and suffering.
The RSPCA sees in the data clear evidence of widespread stress
and suffering by circus animals. All species examined showed abnormal
behaviour patterns, indicative of prolonged stress or suffering.
In the case of elephants, these abnormal behaviours occupy up to
25% of the animal’s time; for bears, just one abnormal behaviour-prolonged
or undirected pacing-occupies 30% of time, a figure described in
the report as “very high”.
Accommodation for the animals is clearly shown to be grossly inadequate,
providing extremely cramped space and a highly impoverished environment.
The data shows that the big cats are still confined to their transport
wagons for over 90% of the time. Elephants are shown to be leg-shackled
fore and hind for over 60% of the time, where “they are able
to lie down with difficulty”
2) Evidence of benefits.
Circuses exist to provide a form of public entertainment. The RSPCA
can see no possible benefit to animal welfare or conservation to
be derived from the use of animals in circuses. Although the report
expresses the view that circuses offer conservation, education and
scientific benefits, there is no data to support this.
The RSPCA is not primarily a conservation organisation; but we
know of no reputable conservation body, either in Britain or internationally
that would support the view expressed in the report concerning species
conservation. Neither so far as we are aware is any circus actively
involved in any captive breeding programme for reintroduction or
conservation of any species.
Assessment of education benefit (which can in the long term benefit
animal welfare) is perhaps best left to those experienced in education
work. An assessment of education benefit from animals in a performing
environment is contained in the Government’s Review of Dolphinaria,
by Klinowska and Brown. This report states that a panel of education
“…concerned that the unnatural, anthropomorphic exhibition
of animals as performers may be merely showing the majority who
witness the displays (particularly children) that the animals’
existence is legitimised only by their ability to meet the demands
for human entertainment. This is considered to be anti-educational.”
Since there is evidence of suffering, and no evidence of animal
welfare benefit of any kind, the RSPCA concludes that there is no
justification for the use of animals in circuses.
The RSPCA can see no way in which suffering associated with the
keeping of animals in circuses can be totally eliminated; the very
nature of the circus business imposes such constraints on the way
in which animals are kept that there must always be significant
levels of stress.
It should be noted that abnormal behaviour occurs in all species
of circus animals, and in some cases this behaviour can occupy a
considerable proportion of the animal’s time. It is generally
accepted by animal behaviour scientists and animal behaviour keepers
that such behaviour is indicative of stress and indicates inadequate
or undesirable characteristics of the captive environment.
Abnormal behaviour – including only those patterns of behaviour
which are not part of the species’ natural behaviour, such
as undirected pacing, head-weaving, bar biting etc.
Dr I R Swingland, BSc PhD MIBiol FZS
Chairman of Wild Animals Advisory Committee.
(Excerpts taken from the full report.)