Animal rights activists from around the north of England gathered alongside concerned locals at Scunthorpe United's football stadium with megaphones, banners, placards, and leaflets to make lots of noise and send out a strong message to the people of the Lincolnshire town about the plight of circus animals. Chris, a protester, said: "We had a good turnout today and plenty of media attention. It's clear from the reaction provoked by the continued use of wild animals in circuses that there is firm determination from the full range of animal rights and welfare campaigners to put an end to this cruel practice."
The Great British Circus this year introduced three new elephants to its 'cast' of wild animals (tigers, lions, camels, etc.), the first time elephants have been seen in UK circuses for ten years. The infamous Martin Lacey, owner of the circus (who last year violently attacked a BBC reporter, see CAPS website (1) for a recording), would have us all believe that "animal circuses care more about animal rights than animal rights supporters". In truth, animals held in captivity and made to perform perverse tricks for the Great (or not so great) British public suffer considerably, both mentally and physically. They are transported around the country for months on end, kept chained up in tiny cages (barely large enough for them to turn around) for the time they are not on stage, and are beaten on a regular basis - all in the name of 'entertainment'.
Elephants will travel in herds for up to fourteen miles a day in the wild and live socially complex lives. In the UK, they are thousands of miles away from their ancestors and in a climate that is entirely unsuitable for them. According to a recent Science Magazine article (2), elephants in captivity in Europe may only live half as long as those living in protected areas in Africa and Asia. The life of a lion or tiger held in a British animal circus is a similar story. These animals are reduced to pacing back and forth in one of Martin Lacey's 'beast wagons' for the majority of their lives.
WE WANT ACTION
The British government vowed three years ago to take steps to ban the use of wild animals in circuses but has yet to do anything, despite pressure from local authorities, many of which have now banned animal circuses on council land. The DEFRA report that misleadingly concluded that there was no scientific evidence to prove that animals in circuses suffered, conveniently forgot to examine the cruelty involved in the training of these animals. What goes on behind the scenes however is key to what we see on stage - the lion obeys the ringmaster only because the lion has from a young age been made to fear the stick (or the metal rod, or the spiked hook...).
The RSPCA has also been vocal in its criticism of the show, urging members of the public to boycott circuses which exhibit wild animals. Head of the RSPCA’s Wildlife Department, Dr. Rob Atkinson, said: “Asking these majestic animals to behave in unnatural ways in the name of entertainment is a disgrace – a disgrace which is already banned in several European countries.”
Circus animals are not 'ambassadors' for their species. There is nothing useful we can learn from elephants dancing around in costumes. This does not teach us respect for the animals nor does their behaviour in the ring bare any relation to their natural behaviour in the wild. It merely teaches us ignorance and disregard for the welfare of some of the animals now threatened with extinction. This is not because the 'wild' has somehow become a more dangerous place of its own accord, but because human interference, greed, and negligence of essential ife-supporting ecosystems is driving these species to the brink.
A circus simply CANNOT cater for the complex needs of these majestic creatures. Any circus that begs to differ, displays not only arrogance, but ignorance and disrespect of the animals it claims to love.
Shackled, lonely, beaten: that is the reality for animals born into slavery in British circuses.
Please continue to support protests against animal circuses in this country. The Great British Circus is now moving on to Louth (Manby Showground LN11 8UZ) - Wed 18th-Sun 29th March - and Skegness (Car Boot Site, Burgh Rd, PE25 2LA) - 1st April-5th April.
Their website advertises future venues a few weeks in advance. If the circus is coming anywhere near you please consider organising a protest (or something more creative - e.g. an alternative street circus?...).