Monday, September 26, 2011

Is the Circus in town?

I've had a busy couple of weeks and have a million things I'd love to update, but few of them can be written on a public forum. One thing I can write about is my visit to the circus.

Zoo people pretend to be vastly superior to circus people. We are exploiting our animals in the name of conservation and education rather than just entertainment. We don't force our animals to perform silly tricks, we train (some of) them in the name of good husbandry and enrichment. Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) zoos are involved in breeding programs to maximize genetic diversity. Staff is college educated. The circus, on the other hand, is an evil animal exploitation machine. The end.

Well, thanks to my dad's generosity, we went to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus this weekend. I would not have gone on my own even though I sort of wanted to, because it would have been morally reprehensible to spend my hard earned zoo money on such an evil pleasure. Note that I am ONLY referring to the animal acts and not the human ones. Other than the clowns, I don't think showcasing unique talents in the circus arena is evil. But I have to admit, for ME, the only draw to the circus is the animal acts. I think it's Cirque du Soleil that has no animal acts and I have no interest in their shows.

Anyway, I went to the circus and was pleasantly surprised (and secretly slightly disappointed) at the changes in their animal acts. I can remember circuses in years past with adult giraffes being led around the arena, tigers jumping through flaming hoops and the tamer putting his head in the tigers' mouths. Humans stood on horseback and leaped from horse to horse as the brilliantly dressed horses galloped around the rings. Elephants were "stacked" in long lines or made to show their strength. Who could forget King Tusk being paraded around the arena over and over? Every clown act had a dog or an elephant or a monkey. All of the non-tiger animals were paraded around the arena at least three times and many animals (like the giraffe) were only in the parades. Not anymore.

This was a kinder, gentler circus. The tiger act was so lame and boring I could only think that "I" could train the big cats at work to do everything they did. There were no hoops or fire. No human heads in tiger mouths. The most exciting thing the tigers did was hop on hind legs while begging for a piece of meat. Mostly they sat and laid down and rolled over. Basic doggy obedience class. Yawn. The horse act was all ponies with no human riders. They were mostly cute little Shetlands and the focus was on humor rather than stunts. One ring had two cute donkeys and one longhorn (castrated) bull, the center ring had one elephant, one llama and one border collie and the other ring was all Shetland ponies. The acts were all cute and relatively harmless. It was by far my favorite animal act of the night.

The elephants, of course, are by far the most controversial. PETA is extremely against housing elephants in ANY zoo to the point that many large, reputable zoos no longer house elephants. Ok, if a large zoo area with lots of space and training and enrichment is unacceptable, carting a large group of elephants in small train cars and then keeping them in small holding areas for no reason other than exploitation is unfathomable. Hmmm. I honestly don't know where I stand on this. PETA has taken their elephant stance FAR beyond common sense and reason. They are completely blind to the fact that African elephant populations in some of the refuge areas are exploding so much that they either need to be culled or shipped elsewhere (zoos) and that the circus is a major leader in Asian elephant conservation and has come around to responsible breeding for genetic diversity.

There were 8 adult female and 2 young (~2-3 year old) elephants at the circus. All of the elephants were paraded around the arena once at the beginning of the circus and the adults performed their act. (One elephant was also involved in the pony act.) Otherwise, they were not used. I believe only one elephant had a human rider and she did one or two minor tricks with the elephant. I remember she was carried on the elephant's trunk, I can't think of anything else. The elephants sat and laid down. Some of them stepped up onto the round podium things. They mostly just all turned in a circle at once. At one point three of them laid on their sides while three others used them as pillows. That was about it.

There were those three animal acts and one parade involving animals. Otherwise, animals were not used. Oh crud, I forgot the Python Sisters. There were three women who were dancing with large snakes. Get 'em, PETA! But seriously, there were no monkeys or birds, no large animals included only for the sake of parades. There was very little human/animal interaction other than the trainers working their animals. The only time animals were used completely as props was the snake dance. I wonder how much longer animals will be used at all? I mean, the tiger act was boring enough that most people probably won't remember it and the elephant act was so toned down from years past I can't imagine it will continue to be worth the expense. The human acts, on the other hand, seemed much improved over previous years. Maybe the circus can sustain itself without elephants and tigers. I guess I hope...

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