March 30, 2013
The Elephant in the Room A sixteen foot tall beast runs rampant through the cobbled stone streets, leaving the locals of Imala scattering to find safety, while the daunting animal kicks over vendors cars and leaves a trail of chaos. This sky scraper of an animal is no other than the giraffe that escaped from the local Rinaldo Circus. This traumatizing incident is one of many in the series of circus animal escapes and rampages on the public, causing danger to themselves and those around them. Transporting wild animals can be stressful for these creatures, separating them from family and social groups. They are also intensely confined and chained for long periods of time. It is no surprise that many of these animals try and escape from the abuse. The promise and magic of the circus suddenly withers away when the lights dim out and the commotion behind the curtain is revealed. The main attraction for most traveling circus are its exotic animals, the one catching the crowd’s eye is no other than the elephant. The majority of circus elephants are captured in the wild as calves. Like human mothers, female elephants will not willingly give up their children. It is reported that in a span of a year, poachers killed 60 free-roaming female elephants so their calves could be taken and sold to the entertainment industry. Family bonds are intensely strong in elephant families. It is known that still nursing baby elephants refuse to abandon their dead mothers, after being poached, and even attempt to suckle from their corpses. When born in captivity, calves are removed from their mothers so they can adapt easier to a human trainer. Elephants are very social animals that have emotional and psychological needs that cannot be met when being contained in a circus.
Since circuses were first introduced to the United States they have been governed by federal and state authorities. Despite laws being aimed to ensure the welfare of some animals in circuses, federal and state legislation often fails to protect circus animals, and sometimes even purposefully excludes them. For example, some state anti-cruelty laws specifically exclude circuses from their provisions. The main federal law that covers circuses, the Animal Welfare Act, is ineffective because it is difficult to enforce all animal circuses in the country. Many international countries also have laws governing animals in circuses. Some international laws are more comprehensive or effective than others. In an entry on the PETA main website, an animal rights activist group, they help shed some light on the infamous Ringling Brothers traveling Circus “For animals in circuses, there is no such thing as "positive reinforcement"—only varying degrees of punishment and deprivation. To force them to perform these meaningless and physically uncomfortable tricks, trainers use whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bullhooks, and other painful tools of the trade”. Many cases against the Ringling Brothers circus claim that since 1992 at least 26 elephants have died in Ringling’s care, among them four calves. One calf being euthanized at 8 months old after falling from a pedestal and fracturing both back legs. Ringling’s negligence in providing veterinary care cost the company a $20,000 settlement when a 2-year-old calf was found dead in his stall bleeding to death after being forced to perform twice in one day. These are just a few of many violent endings for these creatures and other exotic animals that are taken from their natural habitat and social groups to be used in circus entertainment.