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While it is always good to hear when circuses — such as Ringling Bros. — have decided to stop utilizing animals, there are unfortunately still quite a few circuses in operation that use animals in their various acts. Animals may be forced to perform for audiences who merely laugh, clap, and take pictures and videos. No animal should be forced to perform for the entertainment of humans, and because they are unable to say that don’t want to do these tricks and such, animal activists need to fight for them. Thankfully, public opinion of animals used in circuses has changed, and many more people are opposed to this practice. While the first animals used in circuses were horses, we started to see other animals — like alligators, bears, big cats, elephants, primates, and rhinos — incorporated into circus acts. Even though circus animals are, for the most part, bred in captivity, they are far from domesticated, meaning that their needs can’t be met in captivity. The conditions of animals in circuses vary, although they’re likely to “spend up to 96 percent of their lives in transit,” chained up, or confined in small enclosures/cages. These kinds of living situations would be unsuitable for domestic animals, so it’s no surprise that they’re even worse for wild animals, causing psychological and physical harm to these animals.
1. Carden Circus
According to PETA, Carden Circus has received citations — from the USDA and others — for more than 30 years. The Carden family, which also produces Shrine circuses (see below), has continually “failed to meet minimum federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition,” as set in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Citations have included failures to properly handle animals and to provide animals with “adequate veterinary care
As recently as this year, Carden Circus has been seen using bison in their show. One particular act featured people in Native American costumes alongside two bison. Not only did this aggravate animal activists, but it also angered “local tribal nations,” who demanded that Carden Circus remove this and any other “offensive elements” from their circus. Even though Carden removed the costumes, the bison remained. Carden has also used other animals, including camels, elephants, horses, and ponies. The Carden family’s first documented citation was in 1990, when an elephant knocked down her handler and subsequently stepped on him, leading to his death. In addition to the rampant animal abuse and lack of safety precautions for humans and animals alike, Carden Circus often failed to obtain the necessary permits and other things required to transport and exhibit animals in different states.
2. Carson & Barnes Circus
Source: Protect All Wildlife/YouTube
As PETA reported, the Carson & Barnes Circus has received more than 100 citations for violating the AWA, which has failed “to provide animals with basic necessities” like clean water, appropriate shelter and space, and needed veterinary care. Video footage was released that showed Tim Frisco (a trainer) using an electric prod to shock elephants and a bullhook — a “sharp steel-tipped weapon resembling a fireplace poker” — to strike them. When not coerced to perform, these elephants are kept at the Endangered Ark Foundation, which sounds like a safe space, but in reality, is a “highly exploitative” facility that breeds and trains elephants for the Carson & Barnes circus. At this so-called “foundation,” these animals are dangerously close to humans in direct contact encounters such as photo ops, bathing, and feeding. This is as dangerous for humans as it is for animals, as one individual became disfigured and disabled as a result of one such encounter.
Some reviews have stated that the trainers at Carson & Barnes “like to beat animals” and that they “should be in prison.” One reviewer even claimed that the elephants appeared depressed and were mistreated and that one elephant was noticeably overweight and “looked suicidal.” Carson & Barnes
3. Culpepper & Merriweather Circus
Source: Animal Lad the Ace Vegan/YouTube
The Culpepper & Merriweather Circus still advertises its usage of animals in their acts, and the group travels for more than 30 weeks per year across the Midwestern U.S. The animals they’re using and transporting against their will include a lion and two tigers, and Culpepper & Merriweather claim that these animals are primarily rescues. They also assert that only use “positive reinforcement training methods.” Regardless of these claims and whether or not they are true, these animals are still being kept in high-stress environments where they are “trained to perform purely for human entertainment.” Also, this circus has received citations from the USDA for not providing the animals with the basic care they require. Each season, the circus typically performs two 90-minute-long shows every day of the week in 17 different states. All of these performances and this travel force the animals to be in uncomfortable positions both mentally and physically, as they are often constrained and/or confined. Regardless, the circus claims that they possess a USDA license and that the big cats receive regular medical care. However, in 2011, their license was suspended for six months.
Culpepper & Merriweather, which is owned by the Key Equipment Company, has been receiving warnings and citations since 1991 when the circus was cited by the USDA for “failing to provide an elephant with shelter” in the winter. This occurred several more times over the years, with the circus continually failing to provide animals with adequate shelter/housing. In addition, the circus’ claims that the animals are rescues have been contradicted by the fact that, in 2021, the circus “obtained” — which could mean purchased — a lion cub from an operator of a roadside zoo. This came after the circus’ previous lion (according to reports) died less than a year earlier. Officials weren’t the only ones angered by Culpepper & Merriweather’s treatment and use of animals; in a Letter to the Editor published in June 2022, one resident urged readers to not fund what they described as an “animal abusing business” when it arrived in their town. In 2015, an animal activist started a petition to stop the circus’ “inhumane…wild animal acts,” and at the time of the petition’s closure, it had more than 100,000 supporters. Plenty of activists and general citizens are enraged about Culpepper & Merriweather’s cruel treatment of animals; and, yet, these acts remain and activists need to continue to fight for these animals.
4. Jordan World
Source: The AntDog/YouTube
Jordan World is yet another circus that continues to use animals in cruel acts, as they keep working with “animal exhibitors who use intimidating and often violent methods” that force their animals to “perform confusing tricks.” They’ve kept using animals supplied to them by the Carson & Barnes and Carden circuses (both mentioned above). According to PETA, Jordan World forced their elephants to perform and give rides to human guests daily during a regular season. The circus has gotten in trouble before: the USDA once cited them — in particular, their big cat supplier, Adam Burck, whose license was canceled. At the time of the citation, tigers were kept “inside a hot, stinking barn crawling with maggots” and in “cramped travel cages” for more than a year. Burck moved the animals to a roadside zoo, which is not the best result for animals post-circus life. Ringmaster Ari Steeples once claimed that the circus is “regulated by the government” and inspected regularly, saying that their animals are “fine.” Steeples said that the Jordan World crew saw the animals as “artists” who required excellent care to “perform on a daily basis.” This is a prime example of how many individuals in the circus industry view animals: as products or commodities who are, essentially, made to perform. But, these are wild animals who should not be in captivity in the first place.
Animal activists have been calling attention to Jordan World’s cruel practices for quite some time; and, in 2020, when the circus was set to visit Salt Lake City, a representative from the Utah Animal rights Coalition (UARC) commented on the circus’ use of animals in their acts. As seen in widely-available photos, circus handlers used “painful weapons on sensitive elephants” and it appeared that the tigers suffered from “severe psychological distress.” After reaching out to the circus, the mayor’s office said that Jordan World was not planning to use any exotic animals when they came to Salt Lake City. And, yet, they were still planning to have a camel, dogs, pigeons, and ponies for “the attendees to see,” and UARC said that abiding by bare minimum regulations doesn’t make the circus “cruelty-free.” It’s a step in the right direction that the circus agreed not to use their elephants and big cats in their acts, but these animals still have to deal with difficult conditions — regardless of whether or not they’re performing. For example, Jordan World’s elephants have long been staples of the circus, having “been carted around and ridden by children throughout their lives,” instead of being able to roam and experience their natural environments. Unfortunately, these are the kinds of animals who were born (and raised) in captivity, so they would struggle to take care of themselves in the wild.
5. Loomis Bros. Circus
The Loomis Bros. Circus takes a variety of animals — including a camel, elephants, ponies, and tigers — along as they travel throughout central and southern U.S. While they claim that their animals are receiving a “high quality of care,” if this were the case, they would not be forced to travel and perform for human entertainment. About a year ago, an activist started a petition to stop Loomis Bros.’ animal abuse — most notably for its elephants, who have been forced to perform on slippery ground and threatened with electric prods and bullhooks (among other instances of animal abuse). Of course, the elephants aren’t the only animals suffering at the circus’ hands; in fact, exhibitor Brian Franzen has admitted that he “sprays cayenne pepper in tigers’ eyes and noses” whenever they don’t obey him.
Loomis Bros. tends to work with exhibitors like Franzen who are known for violating animal welfare laws and abusing animals, and a number of them have received citations. Franzen has received numerous citations for violating the AWA, one of which included “repeatedly striking an elephant around her eyes and ears.” He was also convicted for animal abuse after “emaciated ponies” were taken from a very dirty trailer, and has even been filmed “repeatedly whipping and jabbing a tiger.” Another exhibitor, Tarzan Zerbini, received AWA-related citations for allowing humans and elephants to [dangerously] interact, leading to people receiving “serious injuries.” Yet another exhibitor, Brunon Blaszak, was cited multiple times, one of which was for his company confining “tigers to transport cages for two days without letting them out.” Fortunately, some places and organizations have taken note; for example, after protestants from PETA supporters and residents, Florida’s Highlands County Fair Association canceled the previously scheduled Loomis shows.
6. Royal Hanneford
Source: The Vegan Dragon/YouTube
The Royal Hanneford is another circus that has garnered attention from activists and citizens regarding its treatment of animals, prompting individuals to protest the circus. In 2017, footage was released that showed elephant abuse at a performance in Binghamton, New York. Tim Frisco, an elephant handler (who’s also mentioned above), was filmed “violently yanking the face and trunk” of an elephant using a bullhook. The Royal Hanneford prides itself on being the “Royal Family of the Circus,” and has been in existence since the late 17th century. They also claim that they use “semi-exotic” animals, which is a confusing description: are the animals exotic or are they not? Animals such as elephants and big cats are exotic — i.e. wild — animals and animals such as dogs and cats are domestic animals. In 2019, at a Royal Hanneford performance in Wisconsin, elephants were forced to give rides to visitors in an area that was noisy and crowded. The elephants would have multiple people on their backs while Frisco walked the animals “around in a circle.” This kind of behavior is far from formal for elephants and should be a “massive safety concern” for all individuals in the area. If any of the elephants happened to “fall out of line,” so to speak, people could have been trampled and killed very quickly.
7. Shrine Circuses
Shrine Circuses are among the most notorious animal abusers and one of the most popular (and largest) circuses in the country, performing around 150 times per year. While many people who give money to Shrine Circuses assume that this is raising money for Shriners Hospital — which takes care of ill children — these funds are not typically given directly to Shriners and instead are often used for the circuses’ operating costs. These chapters of the well-known Shrine Club could choose to fundraise for the children another way and/or to hold an animal-free circus, yet they continue to “risk the health and well-being of animals forced to perform in the circus.” Their methods of animal abuse-led circus acts are outdated, to say the least. In addition, individuals who Support Shrine may be surprised that the circus acts are not owned by them; rather, they are owned by other circuses — such as those mentioned above — and are contracted to be used by Shrine for their performances.
Shrine Circuses have been in existence for more than 100 years, and they’ve continued to make a “spectacle out of exploiting sensitive and intelligent animals,” such as bears, elephants, tigers, and other big cats who were often taken as babies from their mothers. In essence, Shriners pays “for circuses to harm wild animals.” While each Shrine chapter is considered independent, they still must abide by Shriners International’s strict rules. When all chapters gather annually for the Imperial Session — where they “both have fun and conduct business” — they decide how they’ll “operate in the coming year.” This is where and when they can decide to disallow animal circuses from being used for fundraising, but they have failed to do that. However, there’s some hope yet, as some local Shrine chapters have stopped the use of animal circuses, typically due to ever-changing “public attitudes” regarding this form of entertainment.
It’s important to do plenty of research when deciding which circuses to support; even though numerous companies have ceased using animals in their acts, there are an unfortunate number of those that still use them. A wide variety of animals — who are typically born in captivity — will suffer, often undergoing rigorous training, performances, and transportation. Trainers may use negative (instead of positive) reinforcement when training these animals, who feel compelled to obey to avoid being punished. Even animals in circuses who receive the best possible treatment will have stressful lives that are unnatural for them. Supporting animal-free circuses is the way to go, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Explain to them why you’re opposed to animal circuses.
- Watch Former Circus Tigers Arrive at a Sanctuary and Enjoy Life for the First Time! [Video]
- Elephants Should Not Be Painting, Period.
- Former Circus Elephant Finally Gets Moved to Sanctuary
- Petition: Ban the Use of Wild Animals in US Circuses
- Tarzan and Tanya: How These Lions Went From a Cruel Circus to a Happy Ending
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