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.
History of Circuses
“The Rose-tinted Menagerie” by William Johnson has outlined how circuses evolved. Mr Johnson’s authentic documentation reveals the international background and also recommends on the basis of his factual investigations that circuses with animals should be outlawed by all nations. Mr Johnson points out that the fascination that the circus evokes is part of an age-old tradition of sensation, stirring showmanship, and above all, illusion.
The tradition of having animals perform in circuses was nurtured during the cruellest and most sordid epoch of the Roman Empire. Under Roman law, animals, like slaves, were without rights; they were regarded as having been created solely for human convenience, a belief that persists to this very day. From the very beginning the basic idea of ridiculing and demeaning the animals was clearly evident. And just to keep crowds electrified, spectacles presented became crueller.
Despite more than sixteen hundred years of human development, similar degrading treatment can be seen in contemporary circuses. For example, the cowering animals were then driven out of their cages into the arena by setting straw alight behind them or goading them with red-hot irons. They were half-starved and hungry enough to be made to perform.
Isaac A Van Amburgh was the first to nonchalantly walk into a cage of snarling ferocious beasts and begin lashing them into obedience. They were starved for thirty-six hours to submit. This “greatest lion tamer in the world” being shrewd claimed that their routines possessed inherent educational and conservation benefits for the public. So started the deceit on which circuses thrive to this very day.
Carl Hagenbeck, another American trainer (and merchant of wild animals) put forward the theory of animals being trained with “kindness” in the form of food rewards. As we now understand, this reward is punishment as food is deliberately withheld from a non-compliant animal. In 1887, he invented the large cage arena where wild animals were made to jump on pedestals, seesaws and ladders. The act has not changed in a hundred years. It is the same in every country where big cats perform in circus rings. Trainers continue to use the whip and chair, noise of the gun, starvation or simply violent kicks.
Since the 1980s there is a continuous, noticeable dramatic fall of attendances at circuses. International opinion against the systematic cruelty for taming and training animals for entertainment has found many persons morally opposing animals being an integral part of circuses. The Performing Animals’ Defence League’s offer of GBP 1000 to anyone in the world who proves he can train any performing animal without cruelty stands for many years. No serious response has so far been made to this challenge because animals can only be trained by fear and varying degrees of cruelty.
Circuses of India
Indian circuses have been in existence for over 100 years. There was a time when Indian circus managers boasted that their circuses were comparative to America’s Barnam and Bailey. With the closure of Ringling Bros in Europe, India’s Kamala Three Right Circus attained one of the top international positions. It used to tour important world cities with its thirty elephants, forty tigers and thirty lions.
In 1881 the erstwhile Grand Indian Moré Circus was launched by 23 year old Yashwantrao Gangaram Moré of Vadgaon village (Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra) after he captured 25 wild animals and trained them to perform. The number of animals rose to 60 and the circus troupe consisted of 150 persons. They were on the move from September to May, and trained animals during the monsoons. One of their acts involved a tiger with a monkey on its back standing atop a horse; a goat was also made to balance on a football. In 1965 the circus was sold and renamed Sagar Circus. Resold and renamed Venus Circus, in 1981 during a performance in Bangalore, exactly a century after it was established, it got burnt down. Family members of most former circus owners relate some such stories of how their ancestral circuses came to an end.
The Indian Circus Federation, of which most circuses are members, in 2007 had fourteen members (there were twenty-two in 1990). These circuses tour the country throughout the year, camping in cities for as long as their business is good. They move on after about a month in each place, to other cities by road and rail.
In addition to a ban for over a decade on particular animals (tigers, lions, panthers, bears and monkeys) being used in circuses, there also exists a ban on recruitment of child artistes. In 2013 while lamenting this and the high cost of renting field space, plus shrinking revenue due to a continuous fall in audiences, the manager of Rambo Circus said that only 30 circuses were operating in India, whereas in the 1990s there were as many as 300.
For some time the circuses were supplying animals for filming, taking them to the film studios in double cages! This added income helped them but was the cause of additional exploitation for the poor animals.
The fact remains that over the years circuses have failed to cope with competition from new forms of entertainment and consequently failed in making dramatic comebacks. The growing awareness of the cruelties inflicted upon the animals during training and pitiable conditions under which the animals are kept and transported has also resulted in shattering the myth of animals being well treated and in less people patronizing circuses. The roaring business that they were doing in the last century is no longer evident as the charm is lost forever.
Indian circuses are very similar to British circuses as has been proved by the facts collected by persons like Maria Hennessey of the Society Against Elephants Exploitation (SOCELEX). The inhumane conditions found in India are said to be worse than in other countries.
|Certain circuses trainers have stated that animals born in captivity are useless for training because they have no respect or fear of man. Whereas, wild animals which are captured, cannot even endure the scent of man and this alone is enough to train them.
Some circuses spare no efforts to get them illegally through poachers and smugglers. It has been established that in order to obtain a single baby wild animal several adults including its mother are mercilessly massacred.
Very few wild species are born in the confines of a circus. Veterinary opinion is that pregnant animals should never be travelling, leave alone undertake any long, tiring, stressful journeys as required by circuses.
There have been cases of animals having miscarriages or delivering prematurely immediately after a strenuous act. This is of course not publicised. The circuses only loudly proclaim the birth of an animal in their custody in order to draw crowds. They continue to advertise (2013) the bond between mother and baby (even a 22 year old baby!) like two elephants at the Rambo circus that were purchased from another circus in 1994. However, it is but obvious to those who closely observe and understand that the mother is but reaching out in sympathy. Her “baby” is happy to be with her, not happy to be wielding a cricket bat in the ring as is made out – why else would two ringmasters have to do what it takes day in and day out, to make her leave the elephant-house for the performance where she is the show-stopper?
Circuses have claimed that they are helping conservation, yet not a single circus has been known to release their captive bred animals into the wild. Under Indian wildlife laws circuses can not purchase or exchange animals from abroad or from Indian zoos.
|It is a miserable life for animals to live in dingy, cramped, stressful conditions under continuous imprisonment. The only time they are released from their cages is in the circus ring for performing. It is a life of living hell.
Elephants are secured with short heavy chains. When the chained leg gets sore due to tugging for release, another leg or some times even two at a time are chained. Their bedding is saw dust and hay which is a far cry from the forest undergrowth and cool muddy streams which they love and require for their well being.
Similarly, the cages are bare, spasmodically and superficially cleaned. If water bowls are provided they are usually overturned, and excreta is found in them which is as good as providing no drinking water at all.
The animals’ housing and transportation cages are more often than not the same and usually of uniform lengths and heights of 3 ft. The cages are kept in dark places, the animals getting no sunshine or fresh air. The atmosphere is unhealthy – smelly, dirty and hot.
There is enough evidence of the cruelty involved in transporting circus animals to make a good case against the use of performing animals. About one and a half months of each year is spent in transit by Indian circus troupes.
Transporting of animals by circuses many times leads to animals succumbing to stressful conditions. Mortality figures are never disclosed, only survivors are what matter. Unhygienic conditions are more pronounced during travelling. On arrival, animals are found caked in their own filth. Also if the animals are ill during transportation, there is no way in which they can be given medical treatment because Vets rarely exist on the pay rolls on the circuses. It is very common for animals to get injured during travel either due to forcefully trying to escape from their cages or even due to the movement which can cause them to be thrown against the sides of the their cages.
This is exactly what occurred in March 2013 when a circus elephant died when being transported in West Bengal from Ishlampur (Murshidabad district) to Chapra (Nadia district) where the animal was found dead on arrival. The callous reason for death: dehydration.
Callous reasons for animal deaths during transportation by circuses occur all over the world. In 2014 a crocodile was crushed accidentally by an overweight man. The Russian circus’ bus was transporting them for a performance when the breaks were slammed and since the man was not wearing a seat belt he landed on top of the 2-metre long reptile.
Food and Exercise
The claim by circus personnel that at least the animals in circuses are given regular meals and grooming cannot be compared with animals in their natural surroundings where they have their freedom of movement and get a variety of items which they should be eating.
They forget that quantity and quality apart which in themselves are poor, the animals should not be fed highly cooked food but be given their natural diets – for example milk from another animal (cow/buffalo) is not the natural diet of any animal. Minus their natural diet and exercise (freedom of movement) along with the starvation method of training, animals suffer throughout their lives under the “Big Top”.
There have been cases when due to losses incurred, circuses have been unable to feed the animals in their care. Some animals have died of starvation, and, zoos have been approached to take over the other animals.
The all round physical well-being of circus animals is found to be very poor. There is no doubt about them being kept on close to starvation diets which help the authorities to train the animals and make them obey faster and of course buying less food means lessening the financial burden. Certain animals are known to live for only one-fifth of their lifespan when in circus captivity.
Animals kept continuously in small cages or tethered in chains with no movement possible are known to suffer from severe cramps. The inactivity is physically damaging for them. The psychological effects reflect and are translated into physical abnormal behaviour like weaving movements common among elephants.
Old, weak elephants are forced to stand on two legs with the use of a sharp goad thrust into their thighs. The torture and violence is necessary and subtle in the eyes of the circus authorities but the physical long lasting effects on the animals have not changed in a hundred years.
The infliction or physical pain upon the animals amounts to torture into submission. The goads and sharp instruments causing pain are used on their tender spots, like behind the ears, on their noses, under their nails, on their under parts, thighs and ankles, etc. often drawing blood. In order to disguise visible marks on their bodies which would be proof of torture and suffering, the animals are made to wear clothes during performances.
Circus owners often claim that their animals are part of their extended families and that they are treated with utmost compassion and consideration and are loved by the entire circus troupe. The animals are certainly loved in so much as they bring in good financial returns as they are excellent “attractions” but that does not rule out cruelty.
As new comers, biting the bars of their cages in a mad frenzy to escape, the animals suffer before the hopelessness of the situation dawns on them. Distress is gradually translated into stereotyped behaviour, hiding and retreating in a cover or hurling earth if they get a chance.
No allowances for sickness and moods are made – the animals must perform at command unnatural tricks involving elements of which they are mortally afraid.
By domineering animals’ minds persistently and daily, mental cruelty results and finally submission. The animal trainer can only gain mastery and make animals perform in the ring if they are under a constant threat from him. Some animals have the power to gravely hurt or even inflict death upon man. Only if this power of the animal is matched by man in an enhanced form, will the animal submit and perform. Thus, the psychological ill effects on animals, is tremendous.
When the critical distance between trainer and animal is crossed and the animal is unable to retreat it feels insecure, cowers, shows fear and issues a low intensity threat before responding to commands. Animals are seen slinking, belly to the ground, ears flattened and then threateningly pawing the outstretched whip. It is so humiliating and degrading to make animals perform tricks which are planned to be automatic reactions to particular forms of meanness. The mere sight of the goad, gesture and tone of voice of the trainer, can make a ferocious animal docile simply because the animal remembers with fright what it went through earlier.
Symptoms such as thumb-sucking, head shaking and tossing, tail swishing, yawning, lip licking, rocking, continual swallowing, clenching of fists, grinding of teeth, clutching of tail, twitching, chewing finger nails, obsessive scratching, playing with genitals, hugging themselves, staring into nothingness, and self mutilation like pulling out hair are positively results of prolonged deprivation, suffering and frustration. Also, the manner in which the animals approach their trainers, such as trembling, flinching, cringing, some times spitting or urinating and reluctance to jump onto small stools when commanded are obvious signs of deep rooted fear.
The mere fact that it is done reluctantly, under threat, after prodding, proves that mentally they are not fully submissive to their trainers. And, why should they be?
Certain species of animals do not like or are scared of particular other species. Yet in the confines of circuses they are housed together and some times even made to perform in the ring during a single act.
Natural behaviour patterns, taken millions of years to evolve, find no expression whatsoever in circus animals. Certain species of animals are loners and only during mating they mix with the opposite sex. By keeping males and females together all the time in the close confines of a circus the animals suffer biologically as their social behaviour is crippled.
Young animals taken away from their months show general listlessness, lack of exploratory behaviour, apathy and aggression; in turn they are unable to foster their young.
Biological ill-effects are also caused to the animals’ digestive systems as a result of improper diets. This makes them susceptible to various diseases which spread fast among animals kept in close confinement.
Although circuses move from one city to another and realise the importance of having a full time Vet, most of them do not even have a visiting Vet. Only when it is essential in their opinion, which need not be immediate, a local Vet is called in to treat the sick animals.
Medical treatment is most essential in the case of circus animals which are subjected to merciless beatings and other forms of torture, however, this is not forthcoming and in fact it is sad to note that several Vets even assist the circus authorities in medicating and sedating the animals only with the view of their performing better.
A complaint was once received from Delhi about a dog with a fractured paw being made to perform its cycling trick in the circus ring. The circus admitted that “unfortunately most circus owners can not afford the expenditure required for surgical operations... we nevertheless do our best”.
Animals suffering from various typical ailments – for example, elephants are prone to swellings on their legs – are made to perform irrespective of whether they can, want to or not.
The mere look of the circus animals: their soulful, dull, glazed eyes, starved condition and damaged fur, are a clear indication that the animals are in dire need of good nutrition, medical treatment and kindness.
Circus authorities all over the world make sure that people do not get to know of their cruel methods of training or taming animals because the three basic methods they use are: FEAR, HUNGER and PAIN.
An all-animal trainer in India claimed of not having used a weapon even though he should have when long ago he lost control of the lions and tigers in the ring due to electricity failure. (He was probably too scared to move in the dark in case the animals attacked him.) He also generally denied cruelty and said he showed consideration for the animals. Yet, he did not think it was cruel to make the camel nearby awkwardly stand on its knees.
Another trainer has gone to the extent of saying all trainers sleep with the animals! Why then one may ask, do trainers need a whip in hand when they enter a circus ring?
A ring master put it mildly to a journalist that “thoda sakthi to karna he padta hai” when justifying the punishment he meted out to animals. Grooms have gone on record saying that trainers have to regularly beat animals – some times belt them. Moreover, for their own safety, four to five colleagues need to always stand by during all training sessions. Beatings our considered acceptable, and training methods and starvation equally essential.
The training is always carried out in confinement – whether in India or any other country. It is too horrible to witness and all circus authorities know that if the detailed facts are revealed to the public, the brutal training of animals would be stopped which means that animals in circuses would no longer perform, or be appreciated and their use totally banned. So, if at all any one is permitted to watch, it would be the rehearsals, not training where the brutality took place long ago.
In spite of their courageous and brave front, trainers are continuously scared for their own lives. They still think it is the middle ages when “beasts” were browbeaten into amusing people through rigmarole of tricks and animals were immorally treated with no respect or finer feelings. They fail to realise that animals want to be animals and not imitation humans. The general attitude of the other circus troupe members is no different and circus staff is seen teasing animals for fun.
Teaching a puppy to walk on its hind-legs involves raising its fore-legs with the help of a pulley and beating it on its belly. The act of making a dog balance on one leg on the trainer’s hand involves unimaginable infliction of cruelty upon the dog. This trick demands months (even a year) of training, which literally means torture for that duration. Having made a dog fear him, the assistant hangs it upside down. If the animal struggles, which it does, the cord cuts its leg or legs if both the hind-legs are secured. Only when the dog is worn out with pain and howling, the trainer enters the room and in a show of pity places his hand under one of the dog’s front paws. The animal is grateful for the little support it gets in the form of the trainer’s hand and soon learns that by remaining in this vertical position it suffers no acute pain. The trainer then releases the dog, pats its head and feeds it. The dog does not know that is deceived into submission, just like the audience does not always realise that they are deceived when told that the training is done through kindness and love.
Little imagination is needed in knowing how a pack of bull terriers are taught to pay football; or, how some other dogs learned to perform in unison in the circus ring.
An elephant is broken in with heavy pipes tied with stout ropes to its front legs. From behind the trainer and his assistant prod it with metal spiked bars so that it lifts its front legs and learns to walk on its hind legs. The elephant is finally pushed forward to do it. Such an act takes three to four months to put together.
In fact, an “ankush” or hooked goad is absolutely necessary to train circus elephants. The usual place for inflicting pain is behind the knees and under the tail. Without this hook, the trainer cannot effectively control the elephant.
A person who has witnessed elephants being trained for circus performances in India has said that the rear legs are whipped until they bleed to make them do a head-stand or more correctly a nose-stand. This seemingly easy trick throws all the weight (nearly 7 tonnes) on the heart. Elephants are also made to dance, salute and play cricket. A certain circus has boasted of a full-fledged elephant orchestra, and another of an elephant riding a big iron tricycle although it is excruciatingly painful for an elephant to even sit on a wooden block.
People living in the area of where circus training has been conducted have complained that they could no longer bear the continuous cries for mercy from animals subjected to cruelty.
Punishments for non-performance are the order of the day. In the case of elephants, all four feet of elephants are chained for long hours, even days. Otherwise, in the opinion of a circus owner they become neurotic, tear the tent apart and eat the bits. Speaks volumes, if correctly interpreted…
Animals are subjected to severe hunger and torture during their ghastly training which must begin when they are under six months and last up to two years or more.
When animals do not learn what they are expected, iron stools and other items are hurled at them. The animals go sprawling and are knocked out some times with broken bones. They are often controlled and subdued by gouging and twisting the sensitive flaps of their ears. Or, are caned or pricked with pins and nails on the soles of their feet. If by chance an animal is killed or is badly crippled, all that needs to be done is a replacement obtained. In short, they are robbed of their dignity by making them sit on barrels and of their pride as when led by a noose round the ring with a woman astride. May be they would be better off dead.
Horses generally purchased from Punjab are trained in circuses not only to perform in the ring, but are also hired out to film makers. That training too is by no means with kindness.
Some exotic and other birds form part of India’s circus menagerie. Birds are not spared the training processes and to begin with have their wings clipped which makes them prisoners for life.
Animals usually put in an hour’s appearance in a two and a half hour circus show.
School children are often sent to circuses as their teachers and parents have been misguided into believing the outing would be educational entertainment. Circuses always say that children are their main customers.
It has been scientifically proved that witnessing animal performances at young impressionable ages can do more harm than good as a totally wrong impression, bordering on sadism, is created in the young minds and respect and love for animals cannot be thus nurtured. As for just having an opportunity of seeing a wild animal, this too can hold no ground because a wild animal minus its natural environment and dominated by man to perform tedious, meaningless and silly tricks, with silly costumes on, is just not a beast of the jungle any more. For example nothing can be learnt about an exotic cat by seeing it balancing on a large ball.
The glitter, the music, the frilly spectacular coloured clothes all aid in deceiving the audience. Whips with ribbon tassels cover up sharp protruding nails. Loud music makes animals’ growls unheard. Clothes and accessories worn by animals cover up wounds inflicted by trainers, weights tied to their bodies, etc. The distance between the circus ring and audience helps in people not noticing the nylon cords and strings with which the animals are either tightly secured or pulled from behind the scenes for their acts. After all they need to perform on time, in time and perfectly to routine, some thing totally alien to all animals’ inherent natures.
Accidents and Deaths
It is not uncommon for fires to sweep through the tents of circuses. Animals get killed and are injured.
Stunts such as the devil may care jump through a ring of fire can reduce not only a stunt man but also an animal to ashes.
Artists have reported having problems in swallowing live fish and taking it out. Whereas some get elephants to walk over them – once when an elephant ran amuck the artist had to be rushed to hospital. This in itself proves that elephants do not like to do what is unnatural to them – they are always careful of where they tread.
Ring Masters have been hurled to death by elephants during shows. Elephants get angry when tortured and elephants never forget so retaliation is a culmination of hatred over a long period.
A performer recalled how he remembers that “some wild beast had escaped during a show and had pounced upon a small child. The animal was captured but unfortunately the child could not be saved”.
A fire cracker caused a fire at the New Golden Circus on Sion-Trombay Road, Mumbai, during Diwali 2011. Panic and chaos followed, but luckily no human or animal casualties occurred.
Although under the law, detailed information regarding animal births and deaths need to be recorded, it is not done accurately by circus authorities due to their illegal activities. Animals are illegally imported. And often those that die are simply replaced.
It is also common for circus owners to illegally acquire animals and trade in their skins in spite of such activity attracting laws governing wild life.
In October 2011 the Jumbo circus was found by animal activists to be performing in two places: Panipat and Kerala. They had a blind hippo with dental problems, dogs with docked tails, wings of birds clipped, were using the banned ankush on elephants, during shifting of camels one of their legs was tied in the truck, and other animals like cats and horses were also found to be abused. Leave alone confiscating the animals, appropriate disciplinary action was not even being taken by either the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) or the Central Zoo Authority (CZA). Moreover, it looked like duplicate registration for 13 performing dogs had been issued by the AWBI.
NGOs with the backing of the AWBI routinely began rescuing unlicensed animals from circuses: For example, in April 2015 an elephant from Sam Circus, a year later another elephant and other animals from Jamuna Circus, 34 animals (4 elephants, 12 dogs, 1 camel, 4 horses and many birds) from Moonlight Circus from Nanded in April 2015, 22 animals (4 elephants, 4 horses and 14 dogs) from Rambo Circus of Pune, and 3 dogs from Global Circus in Madurai during May 2016. (In June 2016, pending judgement the Court ordered the AWBI and NGOs to return the 22 animals taken from the Rambo Circus back to them. In desperation the owner of the circus wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to revive animals being used in circuses and young children to be trained as acrobat artists!)
In December 2016, Beauty Without Cruelty’s attention was drawn to an advertisement given by the Great Golden Circus which appeared in the Mumbai Mirror. It depicted elephants performing although the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) had cancelled recognition of the circus a fortnight earlier. We immediately took it up with the CZA who promptly initiated action against the circus. But meanwhile the circus was brazen enough to advertise again in January 2017 and yet again in March 2017. The advertisements stated “Watch Elephants Cricket Match, Batting & Bowling”.
For what it’s worth, BWC hails CZA for cancelling its recognition to 21 circuses for keeping wild animals. The CZA has directed Chief Wildlife Wardens of states to rehabilitate the wild animals such as elephants from the derecognized circuses.
The names of the derecognised circuses are:
In February 2017, 20 circus owners of the 35 circuses still in existence, uniting against NGOs, formed the Indian Cultural and Traditional Organisation for Circuses (ICTOC) at a meeting a Chennai. However, they decided not to challenge the ban on use of wild animals in circuses.
Report by BWC
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 was for implementing a ban on Jallikattu, bullock-cart races, etc.)
Most circuses, even in 2014, have proudly presented elephants performing ring dances and playing cricket. Dogs are also made to dance and jump. Camels have been trained to stand on stools. And other animals such as horses, exotic cats and even birds perform or are displayed.
The International Circus Festival (ICF) held annually since 1974 at Monte Carlo in Monaco is organised by royalty (Princess Stephanie who is patron 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. India’s Rambo Circus is invited and attends. The 2013 festival opened with a clown band and showcased some elegant acrobatics and contortionists, but also Indian elephants from a Spanish circus performed, the Liberty horses came from France, and a lion and tiger show also from France. This kind of daredevilry is nothing to be proud of – it is cruel and shameful. Imagine a Shetland pony painfully balancing herself on her rear legs with her front legs on the trainer’s shoulders. Tigers and lionesses were made to perform demeaning exercises including a lioness walking on her hind legs and a tiger jumping over the other animals. The annual festival attracts circus owners, animal trainers, circus fan clubs, tent-makers, circus associations and journalists. Several circus owners go there to scout for talent and managers to learn new acts.
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.
In 2015, a circus went as far as ridiculously claiming that a recent scientific test (sic!) done on animals from jungles, zoos and circuses showed that the stress levels of animals in circuses were much less as compared to animals in jungles, on the basis of which it was hoped that wild animals would be brought back to perform in India’s circuses!!
Over the years many individual inspections of circuses have taken place in different cities. An official inspection in June 2012 was that of Amar Circus which at the time was camping at Nagpur and was escaping action by moving. They had 1 hippopotamus, 1 elephant, 3 camels, 17 dogs, 9 horses, 8 birds and 6 ducks. Of the 17 dogs, only 12 were registered with the AWBI. The conditions under which these animals were kept were poor with regard to cleanliness, medical aid, housing and food.
Soon after, 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
The Central Zoo Authority has a questionnaire for evaluation of circuses which can be seen here.
Many Countries have Banned Animals in Circuses
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.
Incidentally, it was a big blow to animal activists world-wide when in May 2011 the British Government blocked plans to ban animals in circuses, opting instead for a ridiculous improved system of self-regulation and licensing. Not only did every organisation working of wildlife and protection of animals in England believe that transporting animals round the country and training them to perform harmed their welfare (living conditions, ill-treatment, etc.) but most surveys (a few of which BWC India participated in and also wrote letters to some British celebrities and publications) suggested that an overwhelming majority of people opposed the continued use of wild animals in circuses – after all the country prides itself for its kindness to animals. As the Prime Minister did not reconsider, in June 2011 a cross-party motion was introduced in Parliament resulting in unanimous backing in favour of a ban.
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 have 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. To cut transportation costs Rambo Circus successfully developed light-weight vinyl propylene fabric tents that are 30% cheaper and have iron ropes in place of nylon ones so that in case of fire there is less damage. Also, in place of wooden planks are plastic chairs. Their load has therefore come down from 55 to 15 trucks.
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 Chirakunni Circus Academy in Thalassery, Kerala, there was a lack of trained artistes because few joined. 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. The academy that had been started in August 2010, not even a year before the Supreme Court verdict eventually closed in 2016 when only one student returned to the institute after summer holidays.
Incidentally, seven major circuses hail from the Thalassery-Kannur belt. As the story goes, in 1879 the Italian Chiarni Circus was visited in Bombay by the ruler of Kurundwad (Kolhapur region) who took along Chhatre, his superintendent, who soon after set up his own Great Indian Circus. In 1887 when this circus stopped at Thalassery, a gymnastics instructor Keeleri Kunhikannan, approached it and together they established the circus academy which produced India’s finest acrobats, jugglers and trapeze artistes.
“Company girls” as women circus artistes are still called, were in the 1900s inducted into circuses when young, and many of them grew up to be swadeshi star attractions.
It is said that more humans performed in Kerala’s circuses, whereas other circuses had more animal performers. In 2013 a research scholar from the Delhi University, working on a PhD covering the history of Indian circuses and performances in the 20th century, via exhibitions tried to integrate circus people in the mainstream.
In 2015 circus artistes of Kerala were brought under a medical insurance scheme by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy, Chembukkavu, Thrissur, which entitled them to Rs 1 lakh if hospitalised, and Rs 1,000/- per week till discharge.
Circuses WITHOUT Animals
Non-animal circuses are increasing internationally. This is the result of exposing the cruel methods employed in training animals and legislation banning the use of animals in circuses. Even in places where such legislation does not exist, enlightened people do not patronize circuses as they have come to realise that the training and conditions under which the animals are kept should not be condoned.
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 notion that a circus without animals is no good, no longer stands. The circus that started becoming very popular in the 1980s, containing no animals was the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun) of Canada. The group has dazzled audiences internationally with their acrobatics, juggling, high wire and trapeze acts – without an animal in sight. This circus that started 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 were to bring Cirque du Soleil to India?
In 2017 a French burlesque circus show toured India. Burlesque circus performers are both men and women – mainly young women. The acts are on the ground and/or air, and include dancing, acrobats, mime, music and striptease. No animals are involved.
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 performances.
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); 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 where three types is played: pole (fixed), hanging and rope. For example, in 2015 Mallakhamb became popular in Haryana thanks to some dramatic wins on TV talent shows. The boys learn pole (fixed) Mallakhamb whereas the girls in Ambala would be introduced to rope Mallakhamb in 2016.
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 here have begun including performances by Indian traditional artistes, whereas some have artistes from countries like Argentina, Nepal, Uzbekistan Ethiopia and Russia. For example, the Jumbo Circus that employs many Russians has a performer who lifts weights with his teeth.
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 fact, to mark its silver jubilee in 2016 Rambo Circus invited international circus artistes and also introduced costumes of wild animals made with animatronics (use of robotic devices to emulate a human or animal).
Also in 2016 the Great Apollo Circus’ clown or joker (as they are also called) said at Mohali where the circus was showing that he and the other artistes needed to put in a greater effort and perform stunts in view of shrinking audiences and competition from TV reality shows.
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. We have pointed out to successive Ministers of Environment & Forests that circuses without animals were becoming popular internationally, and in India too. 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.
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.
A year later in 2015, a group of animal activists managed to rescue and relocate in shelters all the animals – birds, camel, horses, dogs and elephants – from the Moonlight Circus which was at Nanded, Maharashtra. Based on complaints and video evidence, they first got the AWBI and CZA to withdraw their mandatory registration, following which the Police took action.
The reaction from circuses is as expected – they say the animals taken away will die if kept in zoos because they take better care of them! (BWC feels both are bad and could be best described as out of the frying pan into the fire. However, circuses where animals are always subjected to torture, hunger and fear to learn how to perform, are a shade worse.) Although circus owners know wild animals would not be able to adjust and survive in jungles, they say that ideally the ones that were taken away when tigers, lions, panthers, bears and monkeys were banned should have been released there. They mistakenly feel the aim of animal activists is to shut down all circuses, but all that animal activists are aiming for are circuses without animals.
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.
There are some things animal activists could check at circuses:
If the circus is exhibiting or making tigers, lions, panthers, bears and monkeys perform, they are violating the law. Inform the local office of the forest and wild life department because they are required to hand them over to the government.
Circuses need to maintain papers certifying the health of all animals and birds. If any are found to be unwell (external injuries, trauma, etc.) or if the sanitation and food given is unsatisfactory, the local animal welfare society should also be contacted to take necessary action upon inspection.
Both the forest department and animal welfare society will undertake their own checks. In addition to the poor quality of maintenance, documentation of the number of animals and birds (births, deaths, method of procurement, etc.) is usually found to be inadequate.
Page last updated on 13/03/17