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.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

What, How and Why?

Trying to define the art form that is animal training is like giving a description of the visual features of a sunset to someone who was born without the gift of sight, no words can do justice to such a magnificent spectacle. Unlike any scientific method, it cannot be completely explained with just words. With that in mind, the following is the best attempt I can make to share with you our tradition, passion, and way of life.

I shall start by describing what we do. As any animal lover knows, to form a bond with a being of a different species is to bridge the gap between worlds, and to be able to communicate your wishes to your pet dog, cat, horse, or any other animal, and to have them fulfilled without coercion, is an extension of that bond. It is widely known that teaching your pet to perform certain actions and behaviours, whether it be house training, retrieving toys, rolling over, or jumping over or through obstacles, is highly beneficial to its wellbeing. The idea that this principle is limited to house pets and does not apply in a travelling circus environment is absurd, at best. Scientific studies have shown repeatedly that dogs, cats, horses, camels, llamas, various species of reptile, big cats and many other animals not only DO NOT suffer when living on a circus, but, in certain cases, even thrive better than in zoos and stables. And what gives circuses the upper hand over zoos? The physical activity and mental stimulation known as performing. That and the constant change of sights, sounds and smells help to keep our animals happy and healthy.

What comes next is how we do what we do. The secret to training any animal is perseverance and patience, if you do not possess either of these qualities all your efforts will be for nothing. The rest is technique, which can vary from trainer to trainer, but as long as they are performed in a calm and calculated manner the end result will be the same.

Here are some common methods:

When teaching dogs to perform a desired action, such as sitting up, or "begging," you first get your dog to sit, then you lift his/her front feet up of the ground and keep repeating a command, followed by a treat and verbal praise. Over time hold your dogs feet less and less until it balances on its own. No threatening behaviour is needed, nor is it advisable, as you are likely to have a cowering dog that is too afraid to do anything on your hands in no time. A common way of teaching big cats, such as lions and tigers, to perform the same action, is to tease them with lightweight bamboo sticks from above their heads, encouraging them to reach up and try to grab them, much like a cat can be teased with a ball on a string. Once the animal has performed the desired action, you treat and praise them. Again, no intimidation is needed, and would indeed be counterproductive. A lion tamer needs to use his sticks to tease and encourage his big cats to follow him, something that is impossible if he uses them to beat the animals he is trying to train, for that would only be teaching them to fear him and his tools.
The whip, whether it is used when working with lions, tigers, llamas, elephants or horses, is another misunderstood tool of the trade. When working with several animals at once, a trainer needs to be able to touch, not strike, all of them from a central point, because approaching each individual and getting it to perform a trick is time consuming and forces him/her to focus all their attention on one subject and forget about everything else around them.

Finally, we explain why we do what we do. Our traditions and way of life have been passed down the generations for centuries. We have brought everything from Zulu warriors to Cossack riders and Shaolin monks, along with animals from all four corners of the Earth, to your doorstep, all acting as ambassadors for their peoples and species'. How better to gain an appreciation for wild and endangered animals who are fighting a losing battle in their natural habitat than to actually witness their intelligence and beauty with your own eyes? To watch a tiger display its agility by leaping obstacles and charging through the forest on TV is one thing, but to see it happen right in front of you is another. For the millions of people who cannot travel the world to see everything it has to offer, the circus helps to make the world a smaller and more accessible place for them and their children. Speaking as an animal trainer and 8th generation showman, I feel honoured to be able to spend my life working with and caring for some of the most awe-inspiring creatures on the planet. So few people are given the opportunity that I was, that turning it down wasn't even an option for me. I knew what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t going to let anything change my mind.

Now that you have a better understanding of what the circus is about, I would like to tell you about the challenges we face. There are people who wish to take an extremely important part of our lives from us. The objection to keeping wild animals in captivity is completely unfounded and is perpetuated by people who have abandoned science for ideology. They have decided that all interaction between humans and other animals can only cause the latter group to suffer, and therefore must be stopped. The most dangerous thing about this bizarre belief is that, when it comes to having its goals achieved, it permits everything, that no action can be immoral when conducted with such a warrant. This way of thinking has resulted in firebombings of property, dozens of attempted murders and at least one successful one. And all of this has been committed by people who openly admit to wishing every captive animal dead just so that humans can't "exploit" them, whose propaganda is by deed, not by argument. These are people whose only concern is making sure we agree with them, no matter what. But we don't agree with them, and why should we? As it has already been said, circus animals are some of the healthiest and long lived in the world, so what right do these people have to tell us how to live our lives? If you are uncertain about the keeping of animals for entertainment, we urge you to at least think for yourself, and not just listen to what the animal rights movement has to say. Remember, these people are guided by their own definition of morality, and are funded by well meaning members of the public who usually don't know that their money is going to political campaigning instead of animal shelters.

Thank you for taking the time to read our side of the argument, I hope that any concerns you may have had are long gone, and that you will try to see for yourself how content circus animals can be.

Astley's Legacy was formed to counter the misinformation and propaganda spread by animal rights activists. As well as fighting the corner for circus animals and their trainers, we are here to promote and celebrate the cultural heritage of circus in general, and especially in the country of its birth - Great Britain. For more information please see our Facebook group
Or follow us on Twitter: @RousterAstley

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