Frequently Asked Questions

Nails, sharpened sticks and other easily disguised objects are often used to discipline animals during performances.

 Don’t existing laws protect performing animals in circuses?

Unfortunately, our existing laws in Canada are rife with limitations that prevent them from effectively protecting performing animals. For example, federal and provincial laws tend to be punitive, rather than preventative, the offences are limited, penalties are minimal, and any fines given out could just be seen by circus owners as one of the costs of doing business.

In addition, the suffering that circus animals experience may not be easily recognizable as “distress” to enforcement authorities, particularly if they have not received special training in this regard. Even physical distress can sometimes be difficult to identify in wild animals. To make matters worse, the transient nature of circuses makes meaningful enforcement difficult as they usually leave the jurisdiction long before a complaint regarding an animal in “distress” can be made, investigated, and any charges laid and prosecuted.

Why would circuses abuse their animals?

Performing animals are an investment to their owners and trainers, and performing is what makes them valuable. If an animal doesn’t perform, the trainer has a strong incentive to utilize “harsher” methods to “make” that animal perform. A non-performing animal is a liability.

Why would circus animals do tricks if they were abused?

Performing animals are often trained using intimidation, physical punishment or other equally abrasive methods. Some trainers use pain to make their animals perform. Nails, sharpened sticks and other easily disguised objects are often used to discipline animals during performances. The animals submit to their trainers and follow directions because they know what will happen if they do not obey. This is a side of circuses that few people ever see, because the training process takes place before a circus goes on tour, and is carried out behind locked doors on private property – far from public scrutiny.

The animals look okay, so how can they be abused?

Looks can be deceiving. Large, highly intelligent, socially complex animals, like those found in most circuses, require far more than food, water and a tiny living space to remain physically and psychologically healthy. They need space to move around and behave normally; high levels of physical and mental stimulation; a proper social environment and some level of control over their lives. Unfortunately, circuses and traveling shows provide none of these.

In an effort to cope, many animals will interact less with their surroundings and start to exhibit abnormal behaviours, like bar biting, tongue playing, or pacing. Others may experience unhealthy changes in metabolism, blood chemistry and physiological functions.

How can the circus guarantee the safety of my family and community?

No one, not even the trainers themselves, can predict when the large, wild animals they work with will endanger their lives or the lives of audience members – especially children – and bystanders. The kinds of cages and restraints that circuses use are not equipped with the basic safety features, such as double door entry, found on cages in professional zoos. So opportunities for animals to escape or attack someone are much greater, especially since the animals are being frequently moved.

Since 1990, captive elephants and big cats have been responsible for 116 human deaths and more than 300 injuries. Since the year 2000, these same animals have been involved in an additional 120 incidents resulting in property damage, human injury and death.

Isn’t the circus a good place to teach children about wildlife?

No. Circuses do not provide a positive educational experience for children. There is nothing about the natural behaviors of animals – such as food gathering, predator evasion, intelligence and problem solving, cooperation, playing, maternal care-giving, navigating and many other amazing behaviors – that can be learned by watching them perform in the circus.

Children also gain no understanding about the roles these animals play in natural ecosystems or the threats they face in the wild. In fact, watching performing animals in circuses may actually teach children that animals are nothing more than objects of amusement that can be exploited and ridiculed.

Aren’t most circus animals born in captivity?

Many animals used in circuses were actually born in the wild. For example, 59 of the 77 elephants now in North American circuses were born in the wild. But even if they were born in captivity, animals such as elephants, tigers, bears and chimpanzees, are still wild animals.

They are not domesticated like your family dog or cat. They may appear tame, but they will always retain their natural instincts and will never be entirely predictable.

Don’t circuses help save endangered species through captive breeding?

No. Circuses often make this claim, particularly about the endangered Asian elephant, but it’s simply not true. The actual number of elephant births that have occurred in circuses is negligible and will remain that way. North America’s captive elephant population is quite small and the number of viable, breeding age adults decreases each year as elephants get older and die off. Even if breeding were successful, there are not enough elephants to create a self-sustaining captive population, let alone release any back into wild habitats.

How can I help prevent the abuse of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows?

First and foremost, do not attend circuses that feature performing wild animals! If one is coming to your area, find out who is promoting or sponsoring it and write a letter to that organization. Send a second letter to your local government. Explain why performing animal acts are cruel, outdated and unsafe. Ask the circus promoter or sponsor to do business only with animal-free circuses in the future. Request that your municipal council examine the possibility of enacting a by-law prohibiting performing animal acts in your community. Inform your family, friends and co-workers about the plight of performing animals.

How can my favorite charity raise funds, if not through the use of animal-based circuses?

There are many options available for charities needing to raise publicity and funds. Some of these cost far less than an animal circus would and raise more in total revenue. These include the following cruelty-free, cost-effective fundraisers: lotteries, auctions, antique car shows, dinner theaters, family cookouts, carnivals and human-only circuses.