Circuses are means of entertainment where extremely cruel methods and intimidators are adopted to make animals perform unnatural acts. The cruelty begins from the point when the animals are acquired, then housed in dingy, cramped, stressful conditions under continuous imprisonment with inadequate and inappropriate food and exercise, always transported long distances under unhygienic and stressful conditions. Obviously this leads to unnatural behaviour with scant attention given to their mental and physical well-being since all that counts is their “spectacular performances” which they are taught through physical torture, hunger and fear.
In 1991 Beauty Without Cruelty submitted a comprehensive report on “Circuses in India” to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (Government of India) on the basis of which a notification banning the use of tigers, panthers, bears, monkeys and dogs was issued. (Soon after, dogs were exempted although mentioned the original Notification because in addition to circuses, the ban would have automatically covered dog shows by Kennel Clubs.) Disturbed, the Indian Circus Federation obtained a High Court interim stay order. In 1998 the High Court ordered that the Ministry review its stand because the Federation submitted a book entitled “Animals in Circuses and Zoos Chiron’s World” by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington, claiming it was endorsed by the Royal SPCA stating that circus animals can be trained with love and affection. Although the Royal SPCA refuted this for the Court, the result of it was that although enraged BWC was left with no option but to convince the Ministry of the cruelties very much prevalent in circuses so that they in turn could convincingly inform the Court that they wished to maintain their original stand and Notification ban. BWC also forwarded to the Ministry a copy of the Animal Defenders’ video “The Ugliest Show on Earth” which undoubtedly proved the cruelty involved in training circus animals in the UK.
Any way, as things stand tigers, lions, panthers, bears and monkeys are banned in all Indian circuses. On 1st May 2001 the Supreme Court upheld a Kerala High Court judgement that prohibits circuses from training or using these five species of animals.
(In July 2011 a Notification was issued by the Ministry of Environment & Forests adding bulls as the sixth specie that “shall not be exhibited or trained as performing animals”. This move is perceived as a stepping stone for implementing a ban on Jallikattu, bullock-cart races, etc.)
However, circuses proudly present elephants performing ring dances and playing cricket. Dogs are also made to dance and jump. And other animals such as camels, horses, exotic cats and even birds perform or are displayed.
The International Circus Festival (ICF) held at Monte Carlo in Monaco is organised by royalty (Princess Stephanie was married to a trapeze artist) in order to promote circuses as a form of art. Twenty-five best acts selected from circuses across the globe are presented in two sets of performances at the fest. The 35th ICF was held in January 2011 for which India’s Rambo Circus was invited. However, worldwide circuses are all well aware of growing resentment to the use of animals which increasingly reflects upon in the number of dwindling visitors to their shows. In desperation of circuses with animals dying, in 2010 the FMC (Fédération Mondiale du Cirque / World Circus Federation) declared the third Saturday in April as World Circus Day.
Worldwide Circus Bans
The following list on Worldwide Circus Bans has been prepared and updated in August 2013 by Animal Defenders International:
Austria: Nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Nationwide ban on all animals in circuses
Croatia: Nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
Czech Republic: Nationwide ban on the use of certain species in circuses.
Cyprus: Nationwide ban on all animals in circuses
Denmark: Nationwide ban on the use of certain species in circuses.
Estonia: Nationwide ban on the use of wild-born animals in circuses.
Finland: Nationwide ban on the use of certain species in circuses.
Greece: Nationwide ban on all animals in circuses
Hungary: Nationwide ban on the use of wild caught animals in circuses, the purchase and training of elephants and primates for circus performances and the purchase, training and use of CITES (Appendix 1) listed species in circuses.
Ireland: Local bans on the use of animals in circuses in Cork, Drogheda, Fingal, Monaghan, Waterford and Wicklow
Poland: Nationwide ban on the use of wild-born animals in circuses.
Portugal: Nationwide ban restricting the use of great apes in circuses and the acquisition and breeding of CITES listed species.
Slovenia: Nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses
Spain: Local bans on the use of wild animals in circuses in several towns including Barcelona.
Sweden: Nationwide ban on the use of certain species in circuses.
UK: Over 200 local authorities have bans on animal circuses (more than two thirds of these ban all performing animals, the remainder ban just wild animals). A Government commitment to ban the use of wild animals in circuses - this is yet to be enacted.
USA: 35 partial or full bans on circus animals in municipalities in the US, in 18 states.
Canada: Local bans on the use of animals in circuses in 28 municipal jurisdictions.
CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA
Argentina: Local bans on the use of wild animals in circuses in over 20 cities including a ban in the city of Buenos Aires.
Bolivia: Nationwide ban on the use of wild and domestic animals in circuses.
Brazil: Local bans on the use of wild and domestic animals in circuses in the districts of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Pernambuco, Paraiba, Rio Grande do Sul, Espiritu Santo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Alagoas and a number of bans in cities within another four Brazilian states.
Chile: Local bans on the use of wild and domestic animals in circuses in the city of Santiago.
Colombia: Nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses; Local ban on the use of animals in circuses in the capital, Bogota.
Costa Rica: Nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
Ecuador: Nationwide ban on the use of native wild animals; restrictions on the use of exotic animals; ban on the import of both native and exotic wild animals with circuses
Paraguay: Nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
Peru: Nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses as well as a local ban on all animals in Magdalena del Mar.
Australia: Local bans on the use of animals in circuses in several towns including Hobsons Bay, Parramata and Lismore.
India: Nationwide ban on the use of certain species in circuses.
Israel: Nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
Singapore: Nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
Taiwan: Nationwide prohibition on the import or export of protected wildlife for circuses.
Survival at Stake
In 2002 the Indian Circus Federation had 22 members which declined to 14 in 2011, but in 2014 the Minister of Environment & Forests stated in reply to a question in the Lok Sabha that 22 circuses were included among the 192 zoos recognised by the Central Zoo Authority. Circus owners have themselves felt that in a few years, there will be no circuses left in India because of the 50-odd circuses that may exist here, only 20 make a small profit, and in a span of three years between 2008 and 2011, four circuses closed.
Other reasons cited by them begin with the existing and pending bans on different species of performing animals, followed by high transportation costs and not only high ground-rentals, but difficulties in obtaining grounds to pitch their tents in different cities. Some years ago the amendments to the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986, put a ban on children being trained within circuses. Then, in April 2011 the Supreme Court instructed the government to rescue and rehabilitate working minors under 14 years of age from circuses. (The children were made to perform dangerous stunts such as high-wire acrobatics without safety nets which made the Save the Childhood Movement file a petition in the SC.) Despite the existence of the Circus Academy in Thalassery, Kerala, there was a lack of trained artistes because few joined. Eventually in 2014 with only 9 children as students and 1 teacher, the authorities decided to close it and the plan to develop it into a global institution was dropped by the state government.
Over the years many individual inspections of circuses have taken place in different cities. But an inquiry authorised by the Animal Welfare Board of India commenced in November 2012, and covered 16 circuses till July 2013: Amar Circus, Gemini Circus, Great Bombay Circus, Great Champion Circus, Great Golden Circus, Jamuna Circus, Jumbo Circus (Unit 1), Jumbo Circus (Unit 2), Kohinoor Circus, Metro Circus, Moonlight Circus, Rajkamal Circus, Rambo Circus, SAM Circus, Great Prabhath Circus and Great Royal Circus.
Based on the following findings, a ban on the use of all species of animals and birds in circuses was recommended:
• Prevalent use of weapons during performances and training sessions, including iron hooks, clubs, whips and poles studded with nails
• Inadequate access to food, water and shelter
• Cruel forms of containment such as constant chaining and confinement in unfit cages
• Animals showed severe signs of distress including self-biting and constant circling
• Exotic birds had their wings crudely cut to prevent flying
• Wounded and diseased animals denied access to veterinary care
• Circus staff forging veterinary approval for animal to perform
• Illegal transportation methods including falsification of document declaring pregnant or ill animals fit for transport
• Countless premature deaths from stress and abuse
• Old, ill and blind animals forced to perform dangerous acts
• Untrained and children employed as caretakers to look after animals
Circuses WITHOUT Animals is the Answer
Beauty Without Cruelty has been urging people to boycott circuses with animals. Circuses without animals are what we need to support and luckily a dozen such circuses exist today like the internationally acclaimed Cirque du Soleil, Circus Oz, and The Flying Fruit Fly Circus.
The Canadian Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun) started in 1984 with 20 street performers, boasts of 1,500 artists from 50 countries. It has become a global franchise with permanent shows in places like Las Vegas; and their Zarkana show runs in New York and Moscow. To sum up the circus is a tremendous success, nearly reaching $1 billion in revenue in 2011. If they can be so successful without animals, why can’t others? And wouldn’t it be great if some one brings Cirque du Soleil to India?
The Chinese are also known for their outstanding acrobatics, like girls and women performing on bicycles, so why leave out Indian gymnastics? BWC feels that circuses in India can, to their advantage, introduce Indian origin performances by humans and promote them as an “attraction” in place of animal acts and shows.
The 130-year old Indian Circus industry is trying hard to keep afloat because they have not been able to reinvent themselves to suit current times and expectations. They need to totally forget animals and have spectacular human performances which can draw crowds. If people can watch with awe and rapt attention outstanding patriotic group performances at the Wagh Border on Independence Day, surely the public would also be interested in watching similar performances in circuses.
BWC therefore got in touch with a couple of Mallakhamb trainers and suggested that that they approach circuses. Mallakhamb is a 12th century ancient art of gymnastics which keeps spectators spellbound. Literally meaning gymnast (malla) on pole (khamb) it involves performing tasks like twisting, turning, stretching and balancing on fixed poles (teak or sesame/rose wood to which castor oil is applied) or bottles; hanging or suspended poles with chains and hooks; cane or rope using swords and torches; or niradhar meaning performing without support. Nimbleness, flexibility and super reflexes are basic requirements for performances. Over 14 states of India participate in national Mallakhamb events.
The Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Pratishthan, an organisation which helps tribal folk ascertain their rights, was also approached by BWC with the idea that people from particular nomadic tribes like the Dombaris, could be encouraged to join circuses – for their own betterment and that of the circuses. They readily took to the idea and said they’d approach circuses via the Indian Circus Federation. The Dombaris have always been famous for their gymnastic skills. Girls from the Dombari community are often seen in streets precariously balancing themselves on high poles and swaying on ropes with great confidence.
Some circuses have begun including performances by Indian traditional artistes, whereas some have artistes from countries like Argentina, Nepal, Uzbekistan Ethiopia and Russia.
In June 2012 the Rambo Circus without animals – for the first time ever in India – debuted at the Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. The four shows of the day displayed fire acts, pyramids, German wheel, high wheel cycle, clowning, juggling, etc. and were accompanied with workshops for children. As the public response was good, they repeated the shows in 2013. Let’s hope they give up having animals – elephants, camels, horses, dogs and parrots – in all their circus shows soon.
In May 2013 BWC pointed out to the Minister of Environment & Forests that circuses without animals were becoming popular internationally, and in India too. We mentioned again that we look forward to the day when the Government of India imposes a total ban on all animals, birds and fish in circuses, because not a single one would perform without having been subjected to hunger, torture and fear. Deliberations are on to make circuses without animals a reality soon.
It was therefore not at all surprising when in February 2014 The Great Oriental Circus made a comeback after 26 years – but without a single animal or bird in the show! 40 artistes from Nepal, Africa and India have thus begun enthralling the public with their acts.
Meanwhile, our decades’ long campaign against the use of animals in circuses continues because unfortunately elephants, hippos, dogs, camels, horses, ponies, and exotic birds and cats, still perform and are exhibited in almost all circuses. Getting animal performances totally eliminated is a matter of time and if we wish to hasten the process, we should not visit or support their existence in any way. The least we can do is discourage as many people as possible, particularly children, from visiting those with animals. Also discourage children from playing computer games covering circus acts with animals because such games can make them want to witness live animal performances.
For detailed information on Circuses please read