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Animals have been used in circuses for generations, and while the sight of a lion jumping through fire, an elephant standing on its hind legs, or a monkey riding a bicycle may seem entertaining to some, these animals have to suffer a lifetime of abuse, confinement, and stress.

Training circus animals are often deliberately misrepresented to make it appear as though they perform because they like it, when in reality it’s because they have been conditioned to do so as the trainer commands or face some form of abuse. Circuses and trainers may claim to uphold the best practices and to have the animal’s best interests at heart, but the facts speak for themselves and, without exception, every major animal-using circus in the U.S. has fallen foul of the United States Animal Welfare Act. Here are just five of many abuses animals still endure in circuses around the U.S.

1. Animals spend 96 percent of their lives behind bars.

The average circus travels for 48 weeks of the year, and during this time, the animals are all confined to tiny cages, only just big enough to stand and turn around in. Statistics show that the average time that the animals are caged for is in excess of 26 hours, and in some cases it was as long as 75 or 100 hours. In the wild, an elephant can walk up to 30 miles each day, highlighting the immense disparity between their cruel circus lifestyle and their natural one.

2. Babies are torn away from their mothers shortly after birth.

Elephants, lions, tigers, and chimpanzees are all very social animals by nature, yet in the circus, these animals are taken away from their mothers at a very young age and brought up in a solitary environment where they cannot exhibit many of their natural behaviors. It is very common for these animals to develop stress related illnesses, depression, anxiety, and extreme frustration when they are deprived of companionship.

3. Physical punishment is the standard method of training.

The training of circus animals is a dark and disturbing world which is hidden from the public eye. However, many investigators have been able to film secret footage of the horrific ways in which trainers force their animals to learn the tricks they perform on stage. Bull hooks, whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, and other barbaric tools are used to physically punish the animals until they learn to get it right. Bleeding, bruising, and even broken bones have been witnessed by investigators.

4. Partial starvation and dehydration is commonplace.

As well as using direct physical contact to make the animals learn tricks, they are often forced to go without food and water for prolonged periods when they haven’t performed well during training sessions, as well as during travel periods. According to the ASPCA, the deprivation of these basic necessities combined with the long term physical mistreatment and abuse of these animals is done in order to keep them afraid and submissive.

5. Animals can develop long-term disabilities.

The captive state which these poor animals experience often leads to shorter lifespans, mental disorders, and physical disabilities resulting from a lack of any natural exercise and the extreme daily confinement. Joint problems are particularly common among elephants, lions, and tigers as they would naturally roam for miles, something which circus animals never get to experience.

The unacceptable use of animals in circuses is on the decline worldwide with many countries choosing to ban it outright or impose very tight regulations. Although the U.S. does offer protection for circus animals under the United States Animal Welfare Act, there are only 100 Department of Agriculture inspectors assigned to monitor 12,000 circus related facilities, leaving many animals vulnerable to widespread abuse.

How you can help

  • Boycott animal circuses altogether and opt for animal free entertainment.
  • Sign petitions and join peaceful campaigns to put an end to circuses in the U.S.
  • Contact your local government and urge them to ban animal circuses in your area.

Image Source: smerikal/Flickr