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

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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Martin Shaw is hard to "Bear"

Martin Shaw joins the increasing list of  celebrities that demonstrate both an ignorance for what they represent and a willingness to change their position as it suits them. Previously we reported that Jane Goodall was having to justify her decision to open Edinburgh Zoo's new chimpanzee exhibit when animal rightists criticized her in The Independent newspaper. Goodall's response was no different from the argument provided by keepers of captive wild animals who have to suffer abuse and criticism from those who usually support her cause. Now anti-vivisectionist Martin Shaw, who is a patron of anti-animal circus organization Born Free, has fronted BFF campaigns against animal circuses and is an avowed animal rightist (as opposed to an animal welfarist), was confronted on BBC's "The One Show" with his previous not-so-hostile relationship with animal circuses.

Shaw was interviewed on the 5th September edition of "The One Show" and used the opportunity to promote his anti-vivisection stance and associated charity work. However, when he was shown a photograph showing him working with two trained circus bears on a circus for the film "Ladder of Swords" he seemed pleasantly amused. He even credited the animal trainer for his work.

Circus animal trainer, Beat Decker, recalls his experiences with Shaw at the time when the photo was taken: "[I] remember Shaw spending loads of time (including having breakfeast in my caravan) on Gandey's during the making of "ladder of swords" with Graham Tottles bears Rita and Dailey! can't remember him having anything negative to say about us then".

Of course, the circus connection was not mentioned, but it is nice have a celebrity speak favourably about animal training and admit to even being involved with the process. Let's look at the context. 1990's "Ladder of Swords" can easily be comfortably classed as a "circus film". It is not a film that just has a circus in it, but needs the circus element to work. It is not a film that promotes conservation or animal welfare, and there is nothing wrong with that. It doesn't need to any more than story featuring pet animals needs to deliver a message about good pet care. It's an unabashed circus film and
Shaw is justly proud of his time working on it. He spoke about how he had one of the bears take a polo mint from his mouth.

Cinelogic rates it in the third part of its 40 Under-Rated Movies, saying "It's a fantastic performance. And the dying circus world is romantically and beautifully drawn". Not everyone was as sympathetic. I recall the rather snotty film critic Barry Norman showcasing some irrelevant animal rights inspired thinking on his "Film 90" when he made the irrelevant comment about the bears belonging in the wild. I wonder if  Martin Shaw was aware of this review.

Shaw obviously had good memories of his time working with Gandey's Circus and it was no source of embarrassment to him. However, we cannot let this blatant example of double-standards slide. People like Goodall and Shaw lend tremendous weight to the animal rights cause. A cause that prejudices against animal circuses regardless of their standards of animal welfare. If Goodall and Shaw wish to come over the rational side then let them say it and recognize the wrongs of the animal rights movement they have supported and helped strengthen. 

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