The fight against circus inhumanity

Life under the big top is not the virtuous, educational and breathtaking experience the circus industry would like people to think it is.

For elephants, big cats, bears and the other animals used, life is full of confinement, fear and pain, all for a performance that lasts just hours. In total, the circus exhibits animal cruelty, inhumane care, public safety hazards and a twisted image of wildlife.

Animals in the circus are restricted basically all of their lives to inadequate conditions, while being forced to endure extreme physical and psychological impairment. According to, about 96 percent of their lives are spent in cages just big enough for their bodies to fit in or on chains that are just five feet long. The animals spend 11 months a year traveling over long distances in their cages and chains, sleeping, eating and defecating in the same small area of space.

For elephants, being confined is a huge issue. All of the animals get bored while traveling in cramped spaces, but for elephants, boredom soon leads to social tension, aggression and abnormal behavior. They typically sway their heads back and forth in distress when they are not permitted to act naturally.

When the animals are finally let out of their inadequate spaces, it’s usually for training. Circus animal trainers use extreme “discipline” such as whipping, hitting, poking and shocking with electrical prods. Some of the animals used in performances have visible scars from the cruelty they have endured. Young animals begin training by being stretched with ropes and held in a certain position until they learn the command it goes with. Some trainers drug the animals to make them “manageable” and surgically remove the teeth and claws of others. Training is just physical punishment in the circus industry.

The other time the animals are out of their cage is for a performance. They are forced to demonstrate confusing, frightening, difficult and often painful acts. The tricks that animals are supposed to perform are physically uncomfortable and behaviorally unnatural. Bears balancing on balls, tigers jumping through rings of fire and elephants standing on two legs are just some of the abnormal things that circus animals are told to do. Big cats are naturally terrified of fire and they are required to jump through it. The whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bullhooks and other tools used during the acts are harsh reminders that the animals are being forced to perform.

These animals do not willingly stand on their heads, jump through hoops of fire or ride bicycles. They don’t perform tricks because they want to, and they don’t do them as natural behaviors. The only reason circus animals perform is because they are scared of what will happen to them if they don’t. Even though the United States Department of Agriculture sets minimum standards of care, most itinerary stops are not inspected, so the cruelty continues.

These intelligent, captive animals sometimes crack under the pressure of continuous abuse. Others make their feelings crystal clear when they get an opportunity. Minutes away from a performance, a spooked elephant performing for the Great Moscow Circus attacked a woman near her. Flora,  the elephant, repeatedly smashed her head into the woman’s body and head, pinning her to the wall. The elephant fractured the guest’s skull, broke her ribs, punctured a lung, fractured the orbit of her eye and caused bruises and cuts on her head, face and body. This incident happened on July 18, 1994. Blayne Doyle, an officer in Florida, shot 47 rounds into an elephant named Janet who ran on a rampage with two children and an adult on her back at the Great American Circus in Palm Bay on Feb. 1, 1992. None of the riders were injured. Doyle openly shared his opinion on the event with the public.

“I think these elephants are trying to tell us that zoos and circuses are not what God created them for, but we have not been listening,” Doyle said.

Circus animals endure a form of cruelty that is unimaginable. To help these animals, do not support circuses that use animals.