Ponies pose on the command of their trainer at the circus.
Ponies pose on the command of their trainer at the circus. Claudia Baxter

Australia must ban wild animals in the circus

SKILLED acrobats, the smell of popcorn, and even the clowns, what's not to enjoy?

Well there is one very dark shadow falling across two Australian circuses which can no longer be ignored. It is the shadow of animals, locked up in cages.

They are the performers who did not ask to be in the circus, the animals who are forced to perform over-and-over again for the amusement of the passing crowd.

Despite the common defence that animals used for entertainment are 'taken care of' and 'love to perform', there is no arguing with stark reality.

These wild animals who should be living in nature, or at the very least away from humans, are instead forced into tiny cages, on display in crowded, noisy cities. They are locked up inside bars and concrete instead of living on an open plain, forced to travel long distances on highways from town-to-town, resulting in stress and anxiety.

As for the show itself, research from the University of Bristol found that circus animals spend between one and nine per cent of the day in training or performing for the crowd. Then, they go back into the cage… to wait. This poor excuse for a life is unnatural, and unfair, for these incredible animals who deserve so much more.

Elephants and a tiger with a trainer from Great Moscow Circus in Adelaide.
Elephants and a tiger with a trainer from Great Moscow Circus in Adelaide.

At FOUR PAWS, we have rescued many ex-circus animals such as lions, tigers and bears throughout our 30-year global history, animals who have come from all sorts of situations.

When we first rescue them, these animals are often broken, physically and mentally. They show evidence of abuse from 'training techniques', or repetitive behaviours like swaying and pacing which are clear indicators of mental distress and long-term suffering. It takes time with our expert carers, who provide these animals with rehabilitation and a permanent home at one of our sanctuaries, a space where they can recover from their former life and instead live a species-appropriate life.

At last count, 43 different countries had announced prohibitions or restrictions of the keeping of animals in circuses worldwide. So why is Australia lagging? Well to be fair, there are multiple local councils in Australia that have banned circuses that involve exotic animals in response to community concerns, and the ACT Government has a total ban on such circuses.

The fact is, animals in the circus are forced to adapt to unnatural stressful surroundings and perform unnatural behaviour for our brief amusement. Surely that doesn't seem fair?

By ending the use of wild animals in the circus in Australia, it wouldn't be an end to circuses but the natural evolution of it. Entertainment which celebrates human skills, like the successful Cirque du Soleil, reflect the changing standards of our society, standards which value animals and their protection.

Already there are so many wonderful circuses in operation using only human performers, performers who choose to be there.

These are fantastic shows that show all the glitz and showmanship the circus should be known for, and not the sad reality of an animal who spends their day waiting for the next curtain call.

Jeroen van Kernebeek is the Country Director of animal protection charity FOUR PAWS Australia. It rescues animals in need, including dancing bears, orang-utans, and circus animals, and rehomes them in sanctuaries.