The circus as we know it was started in the UK in 1768 by Philip Astley. The first performance featured the ‘trick riding’ of horses and live music. It wasn’t until 1772 that the term ‘circus’ was first used. The Royal Circus was launched by Charles Dibdin and featured horsemanship, animal acts and comic turns. In 1793, the first circus in the USA was opened featuring a rope walker, clowns and horse riding. By the 1840’s the circus was established in the UK and USA and was generally performed in purpose-built buildings known as Hippodromes or Marble Halls in the USA.
With the expansion of the railways, circuses began ‘touring’, especially in the USA, where Barnum & Baileys had a ‘Circus train’ of 70 carriages travelling around the states all year long. In the 1850’s the circus began to use ‘exotic’ animals such as Elephants, Lions and Tigers. The animals were captured from the wild and ‘broken’ to perform ‘tricks’ for the entertainment of the audience.
The Circus has exploited animals from the very first show. The animals soon became captive bred and spent their lives touring from one venue to another, cramped in metal cages whilst travelling up to 16 hours a day, before being made to perform for the paying public in the show.
Scotland has become the first country in the UK to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. Between January and April 2014, the Scottish Government ran a public consultation on whether the use of wild animals in travelling circuses should be banned in Scotland. 95.8% of respondents were of the view that there are no benefits to having wild animals in travelling circuses.
The First Minister announced in September 2016 that a Bill to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in Scotland would be included in the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government for 2016/17. The Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill was debated in the Scottish Parliament on 5 October 2017 and was unanimously passed at Stage 1. The bill was approved and voted into Scottish law on 20th December 2017.
Let’s make this very clear - the circus is NO fun for animals! Although many circus troupes claim that their trainers care deeply for the animals they keep and adhere to the highest possible welfare standards; the lengthy track-record of Animal Welfare tells a very different story. Many of the well-known circus troupes have had their name and reputation tarnished by animal abuse allegations or the sordid, cramped conditions they call home for 'their animals’.
You cannot escape the fact that any animal forced to perform for the entertainment of humans is living a life utterly opposed to the one nature intended. Elephants are meant to roam the plains of Africa and Asia, not do handstands. Tigers are meant run and hunt, not spend their life, confined in a cage.
Of course, these unnatural conditions have a massive detrimental impact on the animals who exhibit a wide range of mental and physical problems. So, before you buy a ticket for your family to a circus with ‘animal entertainers’ please consider what the animals are forced to endure for your entertainment.
There are a number of myths surrounding the training of wild animals to stand on their heads, jump through hoops, or balance on pedestals for our entertainment. One of these is a technique known as 'positive reinforcement training' (PRT), you may be familiar with it from training your puppy. In essence, when the puppy behaves in the desired manner it is rewarded with bits of food or ‘treats’, but the reality is not all PRT training is positive at all!
Circuses use, abuse and ‘train’ wild animals to entertain audiences who are paying to see wild animals abused. These animals are trained by 'negative reinforcement training'.
The methods used include Bull hooks. They are used by poking and prodding the animal - some times very deep in to the skin - causing pain - in order to force them to perform a certain behaviour. They are often used in conjunction with electric prods that deliver an electric shock as a sharp reminder to the animal that it has not done as the instructor wanted.
This abuse is mixed with starvation and dehydration. These animals are wild and therefore hard to train, they cannot be trained like domestic animals to perform. Circus trainers abuse them with whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bull hooks. Bullhooks are heavy batons with a sharp steel hook on one end, and other painful tools. The animals are kept confined and in fear. They perform difficult tricks because they’re terrified for their life.