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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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Lies, Damn Lies and CAPS Leaflets by Anna Webb

Truth liesImage via Wikipedia
No, you are not seeing triple. This is the third time Rouster thought it was appropriate to paraphrase the famous quote that Mark Twain attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and now often used to describe the misuse of statistical information. However, it is no less fitting in this instance. Anna Webb was inspired to write about her frustrations on the shamelessness of the anti-circus group CAPS (Captive Animal Protection Society) and their latest postcard/leaflet.

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics" goes the phrase. This has never been truer than in one of the recent CAPS (the Captive Animals’ Protection Society) leaflets. Take a look at this:

What’s my problem with this message? Well, aside from it being a huge pack of lies, nothing. Let’s go through this in order.

“Experts agree that travelling circuses, by their very nature, cannot meet the welfare needs of wild animals”. Well, actually, that is completely untrue. In fact, the only independent scientific study of Animal Welfare in Circus, carried out by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington and commissioned by the RSPCA and UFAW (Universities Federation for Animal Welfare) demonstrated that “circuses do not by their nature cause suffering and distress in animals”. Dr Kiley-Worthington states, "On balance, I do not think that the animals best interests arenecessarily served by money and activities diverted to try and ban circuses andzoos either locally or nationally”. Unfortunately, that is not what the Animal Right groups want you to believe, so the study’s results are routinely ignored. Who are these other “experts” then, who disagree with Dr Kiley-Worthington? Why are they not referenced? Could it be that they don’t, in fact, exist? I could tell you that “experts agree that you should give me all your money”, but I don’t expect you to fall for that.

“A Government consultation in 2010 found that 94.5% of respondents supported a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses”. Defra’s public consultation exercise on the use of wild animals in circuses was launched on 21 December 2009. It ran for a period of 12 weeks, and it closed on 15 March 2010. . It was conducted during the circus close season, so signatures could not be collected from circus visitors, while Animal Rights groups could contact their paying supporters and encourage them to vote. The consultation collected 9532 answers in favour of a ban, which is 94.5% of the 10105 responses. No checks were made to ensure that only British people responded and to prevent multiple voting. Even if we ignore these facts, according to the World Bank, the population of Britain in 2010 was 62,218,761, so 10,000 signatures is 0.016% of the British public – hardly a significant percentage. During the touring season animal Circuses like Zippos, the Great British Circus, Peter Jolly’s Circus, Bobby Roberts Super Circus, Mondao, and Giffords fill up bigtops with paying members of the public day after day. The Giffords bigtop on its own sits 500 spectators, and seats are routinely sold out. They could get 10000 visitors in less than two weeks, and they tour from 5 months every year. Circus spectators vote with their wallet and their feet in favour of animal circus - they don’t just click a box on the internet. Yet, the dratted petition keeps cropping up, typically misquoted as “94.5% of the British public”, which is a huge whopper. I suppose I should be grateful to CAPS for at least wording it properly, but somehow I don’t feel inclined.

“In June 2011, a motion was passed unanimously by MPs in the House of Commons, calling for a ban”. Good thing we’re in pantomime season, as the only answer to this is “oh no it wasn’t!” In June 2011, In June 2011, 36 MPs voted in favour of a ban on exotic animals. There are 650 MPs in the UK, which means that only 5.5% voted in favour of a ban – that’s hardly unanimous.

“It was later announced though, that instead of introducing the ban as called for by the public, the politicians and the experts, the Government would instead be introducing a system of regulation” etc. Actually, legislation is already in place protecting Circus animals, as well as every other animal in this country. The Animal Welfare Act came into action in 2006, and under its terms animals cannot be mistreated, neglected or abused. Any perpetrator would be prosecuted. The Act does not protect animals from “languishing”, that’s a fact, but that is because the word doesn’t mean an awful lot. It’s emotive and sounds quite meaningful, but it reveals nothing about the condition of the animal. It only reveals the feelings of the observer, who may indeed think a tiger is “languishing”, when she’s just digesting her meal.

So, that’s for the back of the postcard. What about the front?

This picture was drawn by Gabriel Ryan. Gabriel is four, and “even at his tender age, Gabriel has already cut his teeth as a campaigner and photos of him dressed as a clown at a demonstration over the use of wild animals in circuses earlier in the year were shown in press around the world.” Well, if a four-year-old child believes something, we should definitely go for it, shouldn’t we? Aside from the fact that Gabriel is unlikely to have developed those beliefs on his own, considering that his parents are happy to parade him around the country as a demonstration item, what did you belief in when you were four? At that age, I was scared of flushing the toilet in case I got sucked down. I checked behind the bathroom door for vampires, because I knew they would not show in the mirror. I believed in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. In fact, that was the year my mum stopped telling me the story of Peter Pan, after she found me trying to open the bedroom window holding a teddy bear with the firm intention of jumping out and flying to Neverland. In short, I didn’t know much about, well, anything. I definitely did not know enough to develop a rational, fact-based point of view on animal welfare.

In fact, I reckon I could not do that now. I could not look at a tiger and tell you if it’s well kept or not – I don’t know enough about tigers. What I do know, though, is that the tigers at the Great British Circus, which are the only tigers in British Circuses, are inspected by vets and government officials, who are experts in animal care. If those experts approve of how the animals are kept, who am I to argue? As for sad lions in Circuses, as the one in Gabriel’s picture – there isn’t any. There are currently no lions in British Circus. Poor Gabriel is being dragged from pillar to post in a lion costume to try and save an animal which is not there, and even if it was, would be there under the supervision of specialists.

It is all a fine piece of nonsense, really. It is designed to try and collect “votes” in favour of an animal ban. It pushes your emotional buttons, appears to provide factoids, and makes it easy for you to voice a pre-packaged opinion as if it was your own. Circuses, unfortunately, cannot do the same, for the simple reason that this sort of thing costs money. CAPS and similar Animal Rights groups, on the other hand, make their money by convincing people that there is a fight to fight. This sort of campaign is their bread and butter. It’s no small wonder that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, CAPS and similar organisations choose to fight to protect Circus animals, who are already protected by legislation, inspected by trained officials, and regularly in full view of the public – it’s easy and it makes money. Don’t let it be your money. Don’t let them treat you like a four-year-old, and fall for a fairy tale and a pretty coloured picture. Find out the facts, and make your own mind up. 

For the time being Rouster asks that you have a perusal of Ms Webb's rather excellent improvement of the CAPS leaflet. 

Further Reading

 The original two pieces "Lies, Damn Lies and Internet Opinion Polls (Part 1)" and Part 2 were also inspired by the liberal use of unfair petitions and biased surveys. 

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