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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Friday, 14 June 2013

Horses for Courses but not Circuses

The UK government announced earlier this year that they wish to bring about a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.  Unable to support such a ban on animal-welfare grounds they decided to bring about the ban via a more ambiguous route citing "ethics".  The ban, if the proposed bill passed into law, means that Parliament will effectively ban all wild animals in circuses from the end of 2015.

The ban, of course, does not prohibit domestic animals like horses, which as those with knowledge of the origins of the British circus know, were the first animal species displayed in the circus ring.

Whilst a ban on wild animals is viewed by many as a sad dilution of the spectacle and skill of the circus, they could at least take solace that the horse would remain an integral part of the circus tradition.  Unfortunately, and some may say predictably, this is not the case.

Quoted in a local newspaper reporting on the arrival of Zippos Circus, Jan Creamer, chief executive of the animal-rights group Animal Defender International (ADI), stated that she believes circus animals, including horses, birds and domestic animals, endure unnecessary suffering and occasionally violence as part of their training. 

She went on to state:   
'Animals with travelling circuses are on the road for almost the entire year. That means they have to endure constant transportation and live in rudimentary, temporary accommodation. Worse are the horrific abuses during training that ADI has exposed behind the scenes in circuses, not just in the UK, but all over the world.'
Of course, Ms Creamer has never visited Zippos Circus in Mitcham or anywhere else this year, nor has she seen the conditions the horses they display are kept in.   Once again, she displays her cliché "cut and paste" rhetoric sitting behind the fact that libel litigation is so expensive in Britain she can virtually say whatever she pleases.

Fortunately, the comments by the circus owner and members of the public after the article go some way to correct her misinformation. 

To start with, circuses operate seasonally, animals certainly are not on the road "almost the entire year", and even when they are working, they spend far more time stationary than being transported.  The allegations of abuse during training at Zippos are not substantiated in anyway.  Moreover, a statement from a chief inspector of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 2012 maintained that Zippos animals were well cared for, a statement conveniently ignored by ADI.

Whilst, one can expect the likes of animal-rights groups such as the ADI to take a position against horses in the circus even the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) have a rather strange attitude on use of horses in both leisure and sport.  As regards horse racing the RSPCA's equine consultant, Mr David Muir stated publicly on a TV broadcast:
'Horse racing is not cruel; the deaths are tragedy, NOT cruelty. Cruelty is where people do things to animals to make them suffer; injure them for their own gratification. I don't see that in horse racing!'
Nevertheless, in a response from a circus supporter pointing out Muir's comment and the RSPCA's opposition to all animals used in circuses (including horses) the RSPCA stated:
'...the RSPCA is opposed to the use of all animals in circuses and travelling menageries.  Whilst for some domestic species our concerns are less marked than for commonly used wild animals, we nevertheless have concerns regarding their confinement, lack of free exercise, opportunities to perform natural behaviour and frequent transport. The temporary nature of travelling circuses also means that the quality and space available to animals at each site cannot be guaranteed.'
The domestication of the horse is open to some debate, but by all accounts, these animals have been associated with and trained by humans for at least 4,000 years. Currently in the developed world, horses are used for leisure, entertainment and sport.  In the UK alone, the economic impact of just horse-racing is at least £3.7billion a year.  Horse-racing is Britain’s second most popular spectator sport.

Clearly, the RSPCA shows a very biased view as to the use of horses in circuses compared to their use in leisure, entertainment and sport.  In the UK, both racing, eventing, dressage, show jumping and cross-country events all require horses to be frequently transported both locally by road and internationally by air

DEFRA Transport Standard as of 2007

These animals are also kept in temporary accommodation.  Yet the RSPCA sees nothing wrong with this and is not campaigning - as they do with circuses - to have these activities banned.

Of course, this does not mean the RSPCA has concerns about certain practises within the horse industry as noted by its on-going concerns of horse deaths at racing events such as the Aintree's Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival, where in 2012 five horses were killed during the races. Nonetheless, the organisations position appears to be one of cooperation and advisement with the racing business with no call for a ban, which they seem to hypocritically reserve for circuses, an industry that has no record of horses routinely dying whilst performing, unlike racing.

However, the situation is not without hope as recently Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council announced they would now allow circuses with performing domestic animals to use their land.  Ironically, this is subject to satisfactory health and welfare reports and checks with the RSPCA.

Many may consider this something akin to letting the fox look after a chicken farm and question how the RSPCA - after its public pronouncements regarding it's opposition to animals in circuses - could ever be looked upon as objective agents who could fairly inspect any circus.

Further reading:

Zippos Circus Animal Welfare Page  

 RSPCA: Corporate Cannibals? 
The Radical Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals?

RSPCA Prosecutions come under scrutiny

The Future is Orange?

  Peta vs Animals

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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