|Mrs. Jumbo in chains. |
Heartbreaking and no longer standard procedure.
Did you know that it's not the 1940s anymore?
There are laws against cruelty to animals, but that doesn't stop popular media from vilifying circuses or animal rights groups from demanding that circuses give up their animal acts.
I was born in 1983 but I watched a lot of old shows and movies growing up. I'm talking 'originally black-and-white but may have been colorized' old. I've seen and even read stories about kids running away to the circus and saw what was considered normal treatment of animals back then. Yes, it was awful. If that was all I saw, I'd probably agree with the people trying to ban animal acts.
I also saw kindness. Even in horrible conditions, there were still people in these movies and stories who treated the animals as one would a beloved pet. You don't see that in depictions of the circus in modern media. They're the faceless oppressors, the villains that have to be defeated. That just doesn't mesh with my own experience.
Because I've also seen real circuses.
Growing up in a small Midwestern town, my family didn't have a lot of money for things like trips to the zoo. Except maybe zoos with the word 'petting' in them where the most exotic animals were llamas and alpachas. We had TV, sure, and books, but it's just not the same as seeing them in person.
But every year, the Jose Cole Circus came to town and Dad always bought tickets for us. It was like Christmas in late spring. We'd sit in the bleachers of the high school gym and I'd bounce in my seat waiting for the ringleader to announce the elephant, which always came marching in through the big double doors. That was the most impressive way to show just how huge this creature was. And then they'd let kids ride her.
I know now that we were usually strapped for cash, but I always begged Dad to let me ride the elephant and he always paid up so I could. We didn't get cotton candy, or caramel corn, or balloons, or any of the cheap but colorful toys the clowns hawked, but I always got my elephant ride.
|Lisa from the Kelly Miller Circus|
Picture taken from The Balloon Man,
used without permission.
During the show, I got to see her perform tricks, demonstrating her intelligence and agility. Who would think that something with such big feet could ballance on such a small table? And the things she could do with her trunk! Stealing peanuts right out of the ringleader's pockets!
They used to have big cats, too. Lions and tigers that did tricks and acted like enormous housecats. One year, they had a huge python that they let people come up and touch after the show and even take pictures with. I didn't get a picture with the python, but I watched other people handle the big snake and saw how docile it could be.
And, as I said, I was a curious kid with little impulse control, so as soon as the show ended, I was of toward backstage. I got to talk the the animal handlers and even Mr. Jose Cole himself. They were all wonderful, welcoming people who seemed just as eager to talk about their favorite animals as I was to ask questions.
I learned that chimps are smart and stubborn like human children and, just like human kids, they sometimes get sick and can't perform. When they get sick, they need to take medicine, which they don't like. I could definitely identify with that. So the animal handlers had to come up with tricks, like hiding the pills in peanut butter. It couldn't be creamy peanut butter because the chimps would feel the pill and spit it out. It had to be chunky, which is still my favorite kind of peanut butter.
Gradually, the circus changed. The big cats were replaced with dogs, which wasn't nearly as impressive. Anyone can teach a dog to do tricks, they're *dogs.* The doves were neat, but hard to see from way up in the bleachers. But at least there was still the elephant.
Then, one year, I sat bouncing as usual waiting for the ringleader to announce the elephant. By this time the circus had moved to the new community center, an ugly warehouse of a building that barely gets any used. I waited. I waited some more.
The elephant never came.
Years later, I got a chance to see a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. They had acrobats on horseback, alligators, and, yes, elephants. It was all the wonder of my childhood on a grander scale.
Because of the mess of local laws across the country determining whether elephants can be in performances or not, they gave up their elephant acts in 2016. The rest of the circus barely lasted another year.
Their elephants were lucky for a while, since Ringling Bros. owns a conservation center for their retired elephants. Not all circuses can afford to keep animals that aren't making money.
This seems like a callous thing to say, but circuses are businesses. Even if they give a lot of their proceeds to non-profit organizations, often conservation groups (kinda ironic, considering how much flack they get from animal rights activists), they still have to make a profit. Animals that don't perform or reproduce to make new performers just eat up time and money that could be spent more productively.
If you hire someone who just sits at a desk doing nothing, that's a waste of a paycheck, right? You'd be better off firing that person and getting someone who will work. It's the same here, except it's not the animals' fault.
I don't know what happened to the conservation center or all the other animals after the death of Ringling Bros. Most likely, they were sold to people who would eventually turn them into food and fur. Because these animals were born in captivity. They couldn't be released into the wild. Sure, sanctuaries might take them, but most are overwhelmed with wild animals that had bad run-ins with humans or captive animals that suffered real abuse.
PETA's happy, of course, but they think any animal that can't be released into the wild is better off dead, anyway. Including the cows so many people depend on for their livelihoods.