The trend is undeniable: The days of hauling animals around and hurting them in the name of entertainment are quickly coming to an end. Winnipeg is the latest municipality to slam the door shut on circuses using exotic animals. Mayor Sam Katz and the Winnipeg city council made it clear they will no longer tolerate circus cruelty.
All around the world, cities and entire countries are banning exotic-animal circus acts. Austria, Bolivia, Colombia, Greece, Paraguay and Peru have done so already. Others, including Britain and Scotland, are on the verge of doing so.
Besides outright bans, many cities are saying no to the tools circuses use to inflict pain, such as the bull hook -- a heavy baton with a sharp metal hook on the end that can rip and tear elephants' skin -- and electric prods. Since circuses control animals with these cruel devices -- or more accurately, attempt to control them, since so many have run amok -- such prohibitions effectively keep the animals out.
Only a decade or so ago, the fabulous Cirque du Soleil was one of the few alternative circuses around. The demand for cruelty-free entertainment has skyrocketed, and now there are more than a dozen vibrant, innovative productions touring North America that don't exploit animals. Even consummate huckster P.T. Barnum couldn't convince today's informed public beating animals and keeping them in cages and chains from birth to death is acceptable.
The empirical evidence of what life is like for animals in circuses is undeniable and readily available to the public. Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, for example, paid a record $270,000 to settle multiple violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. At least 30 elephants have died while in Ringling's hands since 1992.
Former employees of Ringling have come forward to report egregious abuses, including forcibly removing baby elephants from their frantic mothers, tying them down by all four legs and slamming them to the ground, surrounded by "trainers" wielding bull hooks and electric hotshots.
An undercover investigator videotaped a Carson and Barnes elephant trainer who was viciously attacking elephants with a bull hook and shocking them with electric prods. The elephants screamed in agony while recoiling from the assaults. The trainer can be heard instructing his students to sink the weapons into the elephants' flesh and twist them until the elephants scream in pain.
Despite being ordered to pay a $7,500 penalty to settle nearly three dozen charges of violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, the Liebel Family Circus continues to drag around an elephant named Nosey, even though she is suffering from a chronic skin condition. The Piccadilly Circus was given an official warning by federal authorities about its animal-handling practices. The Kelly Miller Circus has been cited for denying adequate veterinary care to an elephant with a painful, oozing puncture wound on her ear, among other abuses.
The facts are simple and stark: Animals in circuses suffer tremendously. Every parent or grandparent who buys a ticket is contributing directly to the animals' misery. Every child who exits a show believing hurting animals is "fun" leaves a bit of his or her heart behind. Our elected officials should enact additional laws that put a stop to an outmoded form of "entertainment" that has no place in a civilized society.
Jennifer O'Connor is a senior writer with the PETA Foundation.
-- McClatchy Tribune Services