Community View | Animal acts in circuses are antiquated and belong in the past

In response to Mr. Swartz’s letter on animals in circuses: Instead of smelling “ocean breezes” or “wheat in harvest” while traveling as he suggests, it is more likely that what they smell is their own excrement during long periods of confinement. Mr. Swartz compares animals in circuses who live in small cramped cages for virtually their entire lives to humans who live in houses and are free to come and go, and sees no difference between the two. Infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity.

Mr. Swartz says “they love it.” For starters, watch “Stop Circus Suffering, USA” on Youtube. Learn the facts. Face reality. Listen to what George Arstingstall, former elephant trainer and the first American to breed elephants in captivity says: “Don’t imagine you can train an elephant with kindness. I ruled them all through fear and not affection. The elephant hook has to be in constant use.”

Or Sam Haddock, former elephant handler for years at Ringling’s Florida breeding center: “I went after the elephant with a hot shot in the stockyard. I burned out two hot shots and fried him for about 10 minutes. He was screaming and regurgitating water.” After beating another elephant for five minutes, “I took a break and then beat him more. I laid him down and hooked him repeatedly in his ear canal. The second beating lasted 10 minutes. The elephant was screaming bloody murder.” Haddock later came to regret his actions and provided dozens of shocking photos of baby elephants bound and electroshocked by trainers in order to force them to learn tricks.

A circus animal’s life of ongoing deprivation is punctuated by moments of physical violence. Investigations have documented a pattern of abusive training methods where pain, punishment and fear are used to force these wild animals to do unnatural and silly tricks. The tools of the trade include bullhooks, whips, and electric prods which are used to hit, “hook,” and shock animals.

Handlers don’t hit elephants with bullhooks when they are in view of the public. Long before the elephants step into the ring, they have been conditioned through violent training sessions to fear the bullhook, and they know that refusal to obey will result in severe punishment later.

The federal Animal Welfare Act does not prohibit bullhook use, but more and more local communities do, including Austin, TX; Los Angeles and Oakland, CA; Richmond, VA; Spokane, WA; and Minneapolis. It’s time to add Kingman, Arizona to the growing list, especially after the recent county board of supervisors and city council fiascos. Both failed to do the right thing by banning cruel circuses. The hypocritical and useless Resolution 5108 passed by the city council condemns wild animals in circuses, but does nothing to stop the abuse. What does that accomplish? Nothing. It’s just words. Don’t just talk the talk; walk the walk and ban these implements of torment from use here in Kingman.

As the internet and educational television programs expand our understanding of the natural world and the amazing creatures we share it with, Americans are increasingly becoming more sensitive to the complex needs of animals. With that education comes the growing understanding that these animals – elephants, tigers, lions, monkeys and others – are not getting their most basic requirements met under the harsh constraints of life on the road in a traveling circus. The suffering of animals being forced to live in chains, in small cages and endure the boredom and sometimes brutal training inherent in the circus industry has been well documented as a systemic problem.

Every time we allow a majestic wild animal to be reduced to a cheap circus trick, we are not just turning a blind eye to cruelty, we are advancing the belief that it is acceptable to be inhumane and setting a poor example for our children. Simply put, animal acts in circuses are antiquated and belong in the past. Entertaining contemporary circuses like Cirque du Soleil prove that the show will go on without abused animals.