Your Guide to the Reality of Animal Circus

"The academic panel concluded that there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments" - Executive Summary of the DEFRA Circus Working Group 2007

Join us on Facebook The WELFARE of Circus animals.

Monday, 25 July 2011

A Commons Circus of Animals and Clowns by Dominic Lawson

Photograph of the debating chamber of the Brit...Image via Wikipedia
Celebrated writer Dominic Lawson saw what many failed (or feared) to when back bench politicians decided to have a game of "political football" with the animal circus issue on 23rd June. His observations, comparable with views expressed in an article written on 27th June by The Herald's Andrew McKie, cut straight to the absurdity of the whole issue and exposes the serious lack of research and information provided by the anti-wild-animals-in-circus MPs. 

A Commons Circus of Animals and Clowns
Dominic Lawson -
Copyright: The Sunday Times. 26 June 2011 page 23

Some might say it is a cruel, if traditional, spectacle; at times little more than the baiting of enclosed creatures performing under huge stress for the gratuitous amusement of the watching public. Even so, I would not endorse the outright banning of House of Commons debates.

The Commons, however, has called for the complete banning of all wild animals in circuses, to take effect by July 1, 2012. This was the outcome of a debate of furious intensity, yet with an almost complete lack of opposing voices. Member upon member jumped up last Thursday to demand that the deputy Speaker give him or her more minutes to expatiate on the presumed suffering of wild animals in our circuses. There are now only 39 remaining: that is, only 39 such ani­mals in the entire country.

Sheryll Murray, the Conservative member for South East Cornwall, captured the spirit of the debate with a lengthy account of the life and times of "Donkey, a Barbary macaque who now lives in my constituency". Murray spoke with tremulous passion about the suf­ferings of Donkey while captive in Morocco and Spain: "He has very poor social skills and is underdeveloped for a monkey of his age. Please remember Donkey and the message that he cannot bring to the debate himself."

Perhaps, one day, given the growing pas­sion for treating humankind and animals as having the same rights, Donkey will be allowed to bring his own message to the mother of parliaments. In his A History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell wrote that, as a result of the discoveries of Darwin about the origins of man, "a resolute egali­tarian ... will find himself forced to regard apes as the equal of human beings. And why stop with apes? I don't see how he is to resist an argument in favour of votes for oysters."

I doubt any of the MPs who spoke in last Thursday's debate will share Russell's deliberately provocative thought as they order their oysters in the House of Commons dining room; but how do they know they are not causing suffering to those little creatures as they swallow them alive?
The answer is they don't know. As Russell's colleague Ludwig Wittgenstein observed: "If a lion could speak, we could not understand him." What that compellingly gnomic Aus­trian meant is that animals are so utterly different from humankind that no words expressing their thought patterns could exist within our own languages and vocabularies. In persuading millions to the contrary, the Walt Disney Company has a lot to answer for.

It is one thing when little children assume that animals are exactly like us; it is quite another when anthropomorphism pervades the debates of adults. While it might now­adays be regarded as enlightened to treat ani­mals as if they were no different from humans in their sentiments and sense of self, the effect of such thinking can be to reduce humans to the level of animals — in effect, to dehumanise our fellow man. Thus, when the Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell attempted to argue that many of the wild ani­mals in circuses were the "10th generation born in that environment" and therefore it might be cruel to release them, he was inter­rupted by his fellow Tory Stephen Phillips: "Will my honourable friend share with the house his views on whether third-generation slaves in the United States, born into slavery, were content with slavery, more so than those who were enslaved in the first place?"

This was a disgusting intervention, not simply because it reduced the mind of the oppressed slave to the same status as that of a beast; it expressed exactly the same moral equivalence between black humans and ani­mals as the slave owners of the Deep South did to justify their own practices.

Rosindell insisted: "I believe passionately in animal welfare. I looked at this for three years. I visited circuses. I spoke to people who deal with training the animals and I know that they are loved and cared for." This might seem a self-serving account, both from the MP and from the animal trainers he quoted. However, it is actually possible — amazing, I know — that he and they might be right.

Labour's Animal Welfare Act 2006 intro­duced many provisions to improve the treat­ment of animals — but these did not extend to the outright banning of wild animals in circuses. That government did, however, set up a panel of academics and veterinarians, which concluded: "There appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments."

This repeated the findings of Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington, one of the world's fore­most experts in animal behaviour. In 1990 she was commissioned by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) to carry out "an independent scientific study of [British] circus animals, in comparison with animals in zoos and in the wild".

Her conclusions were perhaps not what the RSPCA and UFAW had expected: "The ani­mals ... had on the whole good veterinary supervision ... the majority of the animals were in good condition: 90% [good] on tour. The sickness and mortality are low when com­pared with farms, zoos and stables ... Young African elephants are still imported but these are from populations that are being culled ... it can be argued that their importa­tion is of benefit to the animal as at least they are alive rather than dead ... On balance I do not think that the animals' best interests are necessarily served [by a] ban on circuses and zoos either locally or nationally."
Someone who repeated those findings on a newspaper website last week was treated to the same level of argument that assailed Ros­indell in the Commons: "Would you be happy for your children to be taken away from you and imprisoned for entertainment?" Of course he wouldn't. Neither would he want his children murdered, their skin to be used as the surface of shoes, and their innards to be processed into sausages. If we are really going to draw a moral equivalence between humans and animals, then we would start by banning their slaughter, the eating of meat and the manufacture of leather — not with the removing of 39 animals from British circuses and releasing them onto the veldt, to meet a supposedly superior natural death.

Rosindell will doubtless now require round-the-clock police protection against the lunatic fringe of the animal rights lobby; but it is his colleague Mark Pritchard, the Tory MP for the Wrekin, in Shropshire, who has claimed the role of popular hero. He it was who proposed the banning motion, and in so doing told us in some detail about his own moral "backbone", informing agog MPs that his stand for the rights of animals had been done despite "a call from the prime minister's office ... to withdraw this motion".

One man who might view Pritchard's new status with even less delight than David Cam­eron is Peter Bradley, the previous MP for the Wrekin, who was unseated by Pritchard in 2005: Bradley was a fierce campaigner for the banning of foxhunting, and paid a heavy elec­toral price in his semi-rural marginal seat.

I quote from The Sunday Telegraph of May 8, 2005: "The Tory MP who unseated Peter Bradley, the anti-hunting campaigner, in the Wrekin led tributes last night to the silent army of hunt supporters whose efforts helped the Conservatives ... Mr Pritchard said yes­terday ... 'I am very grateful ... the pro-hunting campaigners certainly assisted me."'

Mr Pritchard, then, appears to believe it is fine to kill wild animals for sport, but wicked to keep them alive for the circus. Only in the House of Commons.
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment