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August 7, 2012 > Ohlone Humane Society: When the Greatest Show on Earth... isn't

Ohlone Humane Society: When the Greatest Show on Earth... isn't

By Nancy Lyon

In California, a growing coalition of humane societies and SPCAs has come together in response to charges of animal abuse by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. They are calling for a public boycott of upcoming performances because of the circus' use of cruel bullhooks, prods, and shackles on animals that are used in what is billed as the 'Greatest Show on Earth.'

Responding to concerns and documentation from animal protection agencies, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted a year-long investigation of charges leveled at the circus. Over a dozen investigations of Feld Entertainment, Inc., the corporation that owns Ringling Bros. Circus, revealed evidence supporting the allegations yet regulators did not immediately act on the findings of abuse. A former head of the animal care unit in the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said that with a limited budget, the agency was unable to prosecute many cases.

Pressured by reports from animal welfare agencies of continuing abusive treatment of the circus animals, USDA brought charges against Feld in March of 2012. While Feld never admitted that Ringling Brothers Circus was guilty of cruel methods to make animals in its care perform, they settled out of court which resulted in an unheard of civil penalty of a fine of $270,000 for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act. Ironically, as part of the settlement, the company admits no wrongdoing or violation of USDA policy.

The boycott, spearheaded by Marin Humane Society, currently includes Palo Alto Humane Society, Ohlone Humane Society, East Bay SPCA, Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA, Bakersfield SPCA, Humane Society Silicon Valley, Humane Society of Ventura County, Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, Sacramento SPCA, San Francisco SPCA, Santa Cruz SPCA, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals -Los Angeles, Sonoma Humane Society, and the SPCA for Monterey County. The number of humane organizations signing on continues to grow.

The humane coalition states: "The use of animals as circus performers is an outdated - and inhumane - concept. Behind the scenes trainers often use whips, bullhooks, electric prods and other painful tools and methods to force animals to perform tricks. When not performing, animals are kept in small, cramped cages for days at a time with little monitoring. Exotic animals that have special husbandry needs are often kept in violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Elephants that travel with circuses spend hours in transit and in chains. Circuses train animals through such coercive means as beating, whipping, prodding and shocking. Elephants are subject to abusive handling methods from devices known as bullhooks that can puncture and tear sensitive skin."

Performing animals such as elephants and other wild animals, by their very nature, do not willingly perform stunts. While some positive training methods are used and some efforts are made on their behalf, the abnormal circus feats are too often produced through fear of the mistreatment that refusal of performing brings. The animals lead lives that offer little toward even a minimum quality of life so important to their individual species, their living conditions often running afoul of AWA regulations.

Animals such as elephants are first and foremost wild animals that can and have cracked under the strain of intense captivity and mistreatment. There have been highly publicized incidents when spectators and circus workers have been seriously injured and killed regardless of training. Incidents of this kind bring to light not only the suffering endured by performing wild animals, but that they can and have become dangerous when they reached a breaking point.

The humane coalition asks that the public not attend performances that support the misuse and abuse of wild and exotic animals. They are asking people to not attend circuses with performing animals that send the wrong message, especially to children. Wild animals are living beings, not meant to be exploited for entertainment purposes.

Ringling Brothers has performances scheduled in Anaheim, Bakersfield, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose and Stockton throughout July, August and September. Because of the company's routine abuse of animals, it is requested that the public refuse to support this cruelty by not attending any of the performances.

Instead, consider the many exciting and amazing circuses that do not use and/or abuse animals, such as Cirque du Soleil, the San Francisco-based New Pickle Circus, the Moscow State Circus and many more, all with entertaining performances that rival and surpass those using animals.

For an extensive list of Animal-Free/No-Animal circuses check the Born Free USA website - bornfreeusa.org.

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