Practical Issues > Animals for Entertainment > Circuses

Under the Big Top
from No Compromise Issue 16

Circuses and other traveling animal acts go through a great deal of trouble to bring us such "entertainment" as tigers jumping through fire, elephants standing on their heads, and seals playing musical horns. However, the same circuses are desperate to hide the fact that the animals perform solely out of fear. In contrast to the glitter often associated with circuses, the life of most animals forced to perform is little more than a dismal and utterly pathetic existence.

The smaller and poorer the circus, the more limited the animals' access may be to water, food, and veterinary care. But whatever the size of a circus, the animals inevitably suffer.

Tigers and lions usually live and travel in cages which are a mere 4 feet by 6 feet by 5 feet. Early in their training, according to Henry Ringling North in his book The Circus Kings, the big cats are "chained to their pedestals, and ropes are put around their necks to choke them down. They work from fear." Bears may have their noses broken while being trained or have their paws burned to force them to stand on their hind legs.

Because of the enormous size and strength of elephants, most trainers rely on chains and fear to make them obey. Some elephants spend almost their whole lives in chains. The well-known Dumbo lived 20 years in "martingales," chains that ran from his tusks to his feet. In the wild, the life expectancy of elephants is the same as ours. In the circus, many elephants die prematurely of disease and the stress of confinement.

Circuses claim to train their animals by "positive reinforcement." If this were true, we would see trainers carrying a bag of peanuts, not a whip and a sharpened bullhook.

Here are some important points to remember about circuses when protesting local shows, creating literature, talking to the media or talking to family or friends:

* If circuses ONLY use positive reinforcement, are they willing to support legislation to ban the use of sharp hooks, whips and electric shock on animals? (Ringling has flat out said "NO"!)

* The animal rights community would like to monitor the training of a baby elephant 24 hours a day for the first 5 years of his/her life. If the circus has nothing to hide, why won't they open their doors?

* Out of the 244 elephants traveling with circuses and "entertainment" venues, 221 were torn away from their families and homelands (documentation from industry source available). These are animals who once knew freedom and now can only dream about it.

* The circus claims its animals are treated like family. Yet it tears babies away from their mothers, keeps them in leg shackles the majority of their lives, confines them for hours and even days in box cars and travel trailers, and forces them to perform unnatural and sometimes painful tricks, all for the circus' financial gain. Hardly how decent people would treat their family.

* There is no way to humanely train and travel with a 12,000 pound exotic animal like an elephant.

* Circus animals live their entire lives in tiny cages with barely enough room to stand up or lie down.

* Circus animals are forced to perform unnatural tricks under the constant threat of punishment.

* Circuses have a financial interest in making the public believe the animals are well cared for. Of course they wouldn't admit that the animals are beaten and abused. We have no financial interest to protect; our only interest is the protection of animals.

* When not in the ring, elephants are chained by two feet unable to take even one step forward or back. They constantly sway back and forth to ease their psychological stress and frustration. (NOTE: before using this sound bite find out if the circus you are protesting chains their elephants. If unsure, call PETA).

* We have undercover video that shows how circus animals are trained. The video shows tigers being dragged by the neck in chains and beaten with metal pipes and baseball bats.

* Wild animals belong in the wild, not in the circus.

* If children could see behind the scenes of the big top and how sad the animals' lives are, they would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the circus.

For more information about the cruelties of the circus industry contact your local animal protection group (see Trenches) and be sure to check out

PETA has a variety of useful supplies available including: Ele-Friend stickers, coloring books, CANCELLED stickers, fliers about Elephants in Spanish, Circus Cruelty Checklists, the video "Cheap Tricks," and Animal Display Ban Packs.

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