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, 12 December 2011

A Slippery Slope Down the Big Top? By Gordon Bysshe

Slippery SlopesImage by Kevin Saff via Flickr
Rouster presents Gordon Bysshe's début article on this blog, discussing the validity of the argument that banning wild animals in circuses is just beginning of anarchic animal rights influence...

The slippery slope argument is a tempting logical fallacy asserting that if one moderate thing happens in a certain direction then it is inevitable more extreme things will follow until we reach an excessive point. However, it ceases to become a fallacy if one can prove why each stage will lead to a more extreme stage. Many who face the wrath of legislation, policies or laws that are the result of animal rights pressure, have been known to cry “This is just the thin end of the wedge! If you stop our animal industry then others will follow”. Is this a desperate cry for help? Perhaps, but before we begin to allow the animal rights philosophy a slight degree of latitude maybe we should consider one thing. Animal rightists, by the statement of their intentions and their very actions, they don’t deny this argument.

During Richard Dawkins’ otherwise fairly rational and well-argued two-part documentary “The Root of All Evil?” he interviewed fellow evolutionary biologist and perhaps the man we could call the godfather of animal rights philosophy, Peter Singer. Their interview never made it to the final cut, but can be freely viewed on the various video sharing sites on the internet. It’s not the first time Dawkins has referred to Singer’s philosophy. Being a fan of a lot of his writing (although not necessarily an ardent supporter of his New Atheist approach) I was surprised when I read in his introduction to his collected works “The Devil’s Chaplin” he admired Singer’s work. However, it is interesting that even within this introduction Dawkins felt the need to address the concern many of his colleagues had regarding the slippery slope of the animal rights argument. Dawkins was puzzled why a line had to be drawn up, as if this artificial convention of human thinking might be outmoded. I was just plain puzzled. Dawkins puts forward that favourite argument of “moderate” animal rightists that animals should be assigned rights comparable to those of mentally incapacitated humans or infants.  

During his filmed interview, Dawkins refers to the slippery slope argument by name this time. Framing the point with disdain he asks if you allow animals to have some form of rights then where will this line of thinking stop. Singer’s response is rather weak, saying that humans are sensible enough to understand where to stop. It’s an amazing assumption given that such a radical decision was made in the first place. I cannot express how disappointed I was with Dawkins’ position on all this. After all, aside from his citation and support of Singer, Dawkins generally seems to put forward arguments that are more in line with animal welfare arguments. He eats animals for a start.

Animal circuses tend to be right at the pointy end of the animal rights argument. Smaller than the other industries and far less coordinated and organized, we know they make for easy targets. The lack of MPs willing to support them in Parliament should demonstrate this fact. Furthermore, they seem to fit a certain criteria. There is no apparent argument for necessity for circuses aside for those who have been brought up in them and don’t wish to leave their culture. So, to the general public the argument can be quite easily made. Why do we need to have these poor animals being demeaned in this way? Why do we need to have animals being transported around the country? An outright ban on this ailing industry’s use of wild animals seems to be a pretty inconsequential action to make. But are there really no further repercussions?   

What defines a circus? This is the crux of the issue and what leads us down this slope. The RSPCA love to chime in with the argument that a circus is a travelling exhibit and by that very nature they cannot provide for the needs of the animals being transported. This is contrary to what independent scientific research has demonstrated. If you look on our channel you will see the televised scientific test that was carried out on Martin Lacey Jnr’s group of lions when they travelled from an engagement in Monaco to their home in Germany. The test was to determine cortisol levels in the animal’s saliva to determine whether or not the animals did suffer inordinate levels of stress when in transit. The result proved that no unusual levels were reached and therefore the animals did not suffer stress when being transported.

However, it should also be noted that a circus isn’t necessarily an establishment that is always on the move. Many theatres all over the western world have their roots in the circus. These roots stretch back into the 18th and 19th centuries. Pretty much any building with the word “Hippodrome”, “Coliseum” or “Arena” in the title has circus to thank for its creation. Circus is not always a travelling establishment.

Wild animals need enrichment. Many zoos, wildlife parks and similar establishments realize that if they are going to keep wild animals then they need to keep their minds occupied. Behaviour enrichment programmes have been set up, but we are seeing more and more zoos becoming actively involved in animal training again. Besides, trained animals tend to be more confident animals and that means more entertainment for the visiting public. Whipsnade Zoo, for example, presents perhaps one of the best “non-circus” elephant displays in the world. The performance is circus in every way but the name. Taking the travelling argument out of the equation how do you distinguish the fundamental differences from captive animal enrichment and circus animal training?

Public perceptions on this are remarkable. Even some seasoned zoo fans are surprisingly hypocritical in their assessment of circus, remarking how they feel more comfortable watching training demonstrations performed with running commentary and in a sterile environment than within a glitzy circus act. This is despite the basic principles on display being exactly the same. It’s an example of the way animal rights thinking has invaded our sense for the aesthetic. Although, such demonstrations, no matter how they are presented, are in direct contradiction to animal rights philosophy ease the conflicted conscience of those who have bought into the vilification of circus.  I don’t see anything wrong with educational demonstrations, but it is sad that an aesthetic is deciding right and wrong in the minds of those who should know better. An animal welfarist asks the question, are the animals being treated humanely. It should not be a question of preferred aesthetics.

Even with domestic animals, taking the word “circus” out has revealed just how much of a prejudice the word carries. “Spirit of the Horse” was a modern equestrian in circus in everything but name. During the years it toured the UK it contained more horses that all the other UK animal circuses put together, and yet it incurred a fraction of the animal rights fuelled criticism a single show like “Zippo’s Circus” or “Bobby Robert’s Super Circus” experienced. Again, it is not so much of a question of what you do, but how you do it. This is why dressage is more socially acceptable than circus high school, why dog agility shows are more socially acceptable than dog acts and why wild and exotic animal displays in zoos and safari parks are more socially acceptable than circus. But the truth is they may be more socially acceptable now, but the animal rightists have never hidden their contempt for any of them.

During the consultation stage for the Animal Welfare Act 2007 the Born Free Foundation stated that their intention was to see the end of all animal circuses, but accepted that the wild animals would be banned first. In 2011 we saw ADI, CAPS, Born Free and others lobby Parliament for the banning of wild animals in circus. However, all of these groups have stated on several occasions that this is just the first step towards their desire for a total ban. ADI advised its supporters that the fight to ban all animals in circus is lost and they should get behind the campaign to ban exotic animals. Few in the know took the assurance of the backbench minister during the “debate” in Parliament on 23rd June 2011 that all she and her sympathetic colleagues wanted was a ban on wild animals and not domestic animals. How could they when those pressing the campaign make the very opposite of such an assurance.

One the most vocal and specifically anti-performing animal groups, the aforementioned CAPS, stated on their website in a post dated 11th November 2011, "CAPS is against the use of all domestic and wild animals underneath the big top". The post, entitled "Is the use of domestic animals in circus on the rise?", was voicing its concern over Cirque Normandie announcing its proposed inclusion of horses in its programme.

But it doesn’t stop with circus either. The statements of all the major animal rights groups make their agendas quite clear. Pressure is on every organization that owns animals. Tell the average person that animal rights groups see the domestication of animals as a perversion of nature and pet ownership, even guide dogs for the blind, as the equivalent of slavery and they will give you an incredulous look. After all, the majority of those who donate to animal rights groups, including celebrities like Brian Blessed and Ricky Gervais, are pet-owners. However, recent campaigns from PeTA have included making direct comparisons between the breeding pedigree dogs as being no different from the ideologies of the Ku Klux Klan. “Hijacking the Humane Movement” is even written by dog fanciers that faced years of persecution and violence care of the animal rights movement. And this pressure does have consequences. Recent legislation has seen the banning of the sale of pets in San Fran Cisco. If this isn’t an example of the slide down the slope I don’t know what is.

Circus is at the pointy end of the animal rights spear of annihilation. It’s a minority industry and plenty in other animal businesses feel confident to condemn them without fear of repercussions. Perhaps it is well-meant; they actually feel that their industry be it farming, animal experimentation, horse-riding, police dog training, pet-breeding, hunting, fur, leather or meat is morally superior to animal circuses. However, Kathleen Marquadt noted towards the beginning of her groundbreaking expose on the animal rights movement “Animalscam” that this is all part of the divide and conquer approach of their enemies.

For example, there was a time when circus and zoos were joined at the hip. Over time they have gradually grown apart, although the links are still there. Still we now live in a time where plenty of zoos can feel they can speak out against animal circuses without fear of affecting their own business. Or so they think. Angela Smith, a Labour MP who presented ADI circus footage to Parliament and has lobbied for over a decade to ban animals in circuses, released an unambiguous statement to the press that she wished to see an end to zoos. The Born Free Foundation once ran a group called Zoo Check, which saw no reason for the further existence of zoos. Today their stance is no different despite owning “sanctuaries” that keep captive animals and occasionally show them to paying customers.

In conclusion circus exemplifies all what the animal rights movement opposes and sadly it is a concept that has slowly permeated the minds of the moderate. Good animal training on a circus is no different than animal training or behaviour enrichment programmes in zoos. Outside enclosures on a good circus can match those of zoo. 1989 Kiley Worthington Report and the 2006 Radford Report have independently concluded that travelling circus animal welfare standards are no worse than modern zoos. The travelling issue has also been scientifically tested to show that they can cause no adverse stress levels in trained lions. However, this is so much window dressing for the animal rights movement. Despite their use of emotive pictures implying cruel training practices, cramped living conditions and the wrongs of regularly transporting animals across the country, this propaganda is designed to appeal to the vast middle ground of the general public. Modern society can relate to the rationality of animal welfare; I doubt the same could be said for the radical yet defining irrationality of animal rights philosophy.

The principles at the core of the animal rights movement is not shaken by the fact that all animal welfare standards can be met in a travelling circus. Their position is not changed because, as far as animal rights are concerned, animals in a circus are a symbol of exploitation. These animals are not bred for materials that some can argue are essential; they are not used to test lifesaving medicine and they are not used as a food source to feed the overwhelming majority of human beings. Circus animals are bred and kept to entertain people. To a movement that sees pet ownership as the equivalent of slavery, this is never going to be acceptable. They care little for the argument that animal circus has entertained school parties for a long time and has been used to help education in many countries for a long time. They care even less that they are a regular and vibrant feature of children’s jigsaw puzzles and colouring books. Animal rights see this small industry as fair game and as their portal into the whole animal exploitation issue. I don’t base this slippery slope argument on unjustified fears, but on the belief and stated strategy of animal circus’s most determined opponents.

Astley's Legacy was formed to counteract the misinformation spread by the animal rights agenda but in addition to fighting the corner for circus animals I think there is also a further need to promote and celebrate the circus in general, especially in Great Britain. For more information please see our Facebook group
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment