Over the years, there has been growing public disapproval about the use of wild animals in entertainment. This has resulted in over 40 countries and jurisdictions around the world placing bans or restrictions on exploiting animals in circuses and travelling shows. Yet in NSW, there are still exotic animals performing in the circus ring despite the growing public outcry.
Wild Animals Do Not Belong in Circuses
Last year people around the world were shocked at the death of a tiger tamer, mauled by his own tigers in a circus in Italy. It’s a stark reminder of the dangers of having animals perform for circus audiences and raises the issue of why there are still circuses that continue to use exotic animals to perform for people’s amusement, despite the obvious stress it puts on the animals, and the often-cruel methods used to train them.
One of these circuses is the Stardust Circus, the only remaining travelling animal circus operating in NSW. Over the years, the circus has been plagued by allegations of animal cruelty. The circus, which currently holds 6 lions and 4 rhesus macaques, along with goats, dogs and horses, has continually denied the allegations, claiming the animals’ ‘safety and comfort is of the utmost importance to us’ (1). They also claim to have been inspected by the RSPCA on numerous occasions ‘and have always been found to comply with and exceed all regulations’ (2).
But meeting, or even exceeding regulations is not enough. The department that regulates circus animal treatment, the Department of Primary Industries, specifies the 6 lions in Stardust Circus require a space of 70m2 in which to live. This is equal to just over 4 parking spaces, or ¼ of a tennis court. For the 4 Rhesus Macaques at Stardust Circus, DPI regulations suggest these animals require a space of 12.5m2. This is just 85% as large as a parking space, or the size of 3 king sized beds (3). These conditions are clearly insufficient for the healthy existence of wild animals, and as a result, animals in Stardust Circus have frequently been seen pacing, exhibiting other boredom behaviours, and with minor injuries (4).
Reward Training is often Punishment Training
Another issue is their training. Trainers at the circus use the reward method, which, according to general manager Glenn West, ‘must be an enjoyable experience, otherwise they will quickly learn not to be handled and can become aggressive.’ The RSPCA, however, has stated it believes training wild animals to perform for audiences is not an enjoyable experience for the animal, and goes against their very nature (5).
"Wild animals' behavioural instincts aren't required by the circus. They undergo fairly harsh training methods that you wouldn't condone for a dog. They aren't trained with care and reward. It's a punishment system." (Dr. Hugh Wirth, RSPCA State President)
This is supported by the world’s first ever study of animal welfare in circuses, which finds elephants, lions and tigers are the animals least suited to life in a circus (6), citing constant travel, confinement in closed spaces, lack of social contact and humiliating training as factors that deny these animals a high quality of life. Even monkeys like the macaques in Stardust Circus suffer from boredom and frustration in captivity, deprived from the usual social interactions and environments they need to thrive (7).
It should be noted that Stardust Circus trainer, Geoffrey Lennon, was also mauled by his own tigers in 2001 (8). Could it have been a result of the animals’ frustration after years of being confined and made to perform demeaning tricks for an audience, things which have been known to make an animal snap?
What Needs to be Done?
Our MP Emma Hurst has successfully established an inquiry into the use of exotic animals in so-called ‘entertainment’ with hearings set to begin on August 13th. To support Emma’s inquiry, we’ve launched a petition to tell Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall that it’s time the NSW Government committed to ending animal circuses (and the exploitation of animals at venues such as dolphinariums) for good. You can sign the petition HERE.
With over 40 councils across Australia now having banned the use of circus animals, it is clear that animal circuses no longer have a social licence and must be banned not only in NSW, but Australia wide.
How Can You Help?
The Animal Justice Party relies on support from people like you to continue the work we are doing. Your support and membership fee go towards helping us put animals on the political agenda and letting the NSW Government know we are unified in helping to end animal suffering. You can click HERE to find out more about memberships.
Written by: Linda Paull
6 Coghlan A., 2009, ‘Circus captivity is beastly for wild animals’, in New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17169-circus-captivity-is-beastly-for-wild-animals.html