The circus is in town

Last weekend, the Northwest Animal Rights Network held peaceful demonstrations in Kent, WA, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. This weekend, we’ll be doing the same thing in Everett.

kent circus

This style of circus reeks of colonialism and is a throwback to Victorian times, when swindlers like Ringling, Barnum, and Bailey first got started. P.T Barnum was a money-grubbing showman who’s known for saying “there’s a sucker born every minute.” He promoted blackface minstrel shows and got away with exploiting animals, women, minorities, little people, people with health issues, and anyone else he could make a buck off.

These days at Ringling, only the animals are allowed to suffer.

Ringling will tell you (as they do on their site) that they provide excellent care for their animals and that the animals are ambassadors for their wild counterparts. However, there’s no denying that Ringling had to pay the largest fine for animal abuse in US history ($270,000) for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Ringling commercial

No matter how the animals are treated, here’s one thing I stand by: Wild animals don’t belong in circuses. They’re not here for our amusement. They don’t deserve to be caged and carted around, forced to perform 11 months a year, and beaten into submission (that’s essentially how one “trains” an elephant).

Seeing an elephant balance on her hind legs teaches me nothing about how they behave in the wild. I guarantee that bears don’t want to ride bikes, and tigers never line up to jump through fiery hoops. Circuses are bad for animals, and not safe for spectators.

If the circus comes to your town, find something else to do. I can think of at least 10 ideas:

  • Spend the day riding roller coasters
  • Ride your bike, go for a hike, or fly a kite
  • Two words: Go carts!
  • Catch that blockbuster film you’ve been wanting to see
  • Visit an animal sanctuary
  • Go to the beach
  • Attend a sporting event
  • See your favorite band in concert (or check out the symphony)
  • Spend the day at a flea market or craft fair
  • Take a cooking class
  • Go kayaking (or swimming–if you fall out)

Or, go to a circus–a circus that doesn’t exploit animals! Cirque du Soleil and other acrobatic, theatrical shows are exciting and showcase very talented humans–who aren’t enslaved, and actually like what they do!

What are you going to do instead of going to a circus with animals?


Help protect chimpanzees

Good news on the horizon: The US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that chimpanzees in the US be added to the federal endangered species list.

chimp on wikimediaRight now, wild chimps are listed as endangered while their captive cousins are listed as only threatened. This means people can breed, sell, ship, and experiment on captive chimps in the US.

Adding captive chimps to the endangered species list would change that and would help chimps in zoos, circuses, and in the entertainment industry.

Changing their status will prevent chimps from being used in invasive medical testing procedures and from being taken across state lines. It would also ban the international commerce of chimps.

The Humane Society, Chimpanzee Sanctuary NW, and The Jane Goodall Institute all back the proposal.

You can read the press release from Chimpanzee Sanctuary NW and an article by the Washington Post for more about the chimps’ plight.

Take Action!

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public feedback about the issue. Please visit this Humane Society page, add your comments, and sign the petition asking US Fish and Wildlife Service to help all chimpanzees by applying Endangered Species Act protections to captive chimpanzees.

Thank you!

An Apology to Elephants

HBO An Apology to ElephantsWhat’s the problem with the elephant in the room?” asks veterinarian Mel Richardson rhetorically in the new HBO documentary An Apology to Elephants. He answers his own question: “the room.”

The problem of elephants in captivity is the heart of this film, narrated by Lily Tomlin. It guides viewers through our complicated relationships with elephants. It shows beautiful footage of wild herds and contrasts them with heartbreaking scenes from circuses and zoos.

The documentary interviews several elephant experts, including the late Pat Derby, co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Her sanctuary in California is a refuge for elephants.

The film is difficult to watch. Elephants in circuses and zoos are trained through forced submission and physical violence. The bull hook is an instrument of torture and the elephants learn to fear whoever bears one. But it’s important to know about the plight of captive elephants. How they’ve been ripped away from their families in Africa and Asia just to entertain us.

baby elephant training (PETA)

The performances that these majestic elephants are forced to participate in seems to mock their very elephant-ness. The ringleaders have stench of colonialism on them. Conquer, dominate, exploit, profit.

Ringling Brothers Circus (Amy n Rob)

Elephants have been exploited for a long time. They’ve been used to perform hard labor, as instruments of war, as objects of entertainment, as transportation–not to mention being killed for their meat and ivory. Humans have been unkind to pachyderms and we owe them a better future.

Elephants in the wild form tight social bonds. Male babies stay with their mothers for up to 15 years. Females never leave the matriarchy.

The Oakland Zoo is featured prominently in the film as an example of a zoo that is changing. They’ve increased the enclosure (it’s still just 6 acres, but that’s six times bigger than Seattle’s paltry enclosure). Instead of direct contact (which involves bull hooks), they use indirect contact so trainers are never in the same area as the elephants. When they do interact with elephants, it’s through a fence and with positive reinforcement.

bullhook (IDA)

The trainers acquired the elephants through other, sub par zoos, and to my knowledge they aren’t breeding them. They acknowledged that the wild is the best place for elephants but since these ones can’t be released into the wild, improving their living conditions is the next best thing.

I don’t support zoos and I would like to see the Oakland Zoo elephants to go a sanctuary like PAWS too. Profiting from animals, whether in a zoo or circus, isn’t right. But on the spectrum of elephant treatment, Oakland is doing a whole lot more than most places.

After seeing this film, you can bet I’ll be at the circus the next time it comes to town–protesting it! In this area, Ringling has learned to stay out of Seattle, but they still come to Everett and Tacoma. I’ll be there, speaking up for the elephants who can’t. Elephants as old as I am who see nothing but the inside of trucks, the sharp end of a bull hook, and the jeering crowds in a circus tent.

I’ve written the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and asked that their elephants be released to a sanctuary. I encourage you to do the same. Write to the officials in Seattle or your local zoo.


Have you seen An Apology to Elephants? What did you think? Do you know of other captive elephants who have campaigns to help them?