Good & Bad Circuses


There are bad circuses just as there are bad pet keepers, zoo owners, parents, and teachers. However this does not mean that circuses of their nature or any of these other enterprises, cause suffering to animals or humans. It means that there must be legislation to ensure that they improve and are helped to provide a life where neither the animals nor humans suffer, but where they all have a life of quality.

We must use sensible rational arguments and knowledge on how to improve animal welfare and apply it, not stop animal human interaction. We have the knowledge to measure when mammals are distressed and also when they have a life of quality. This needs now to be applied in any animal keeping enterprise by introducing legislation.

There is no evidence that circuses of their nature cause suffering to all their animals in the keeping conditions, transportation, performance or training because there are many traditionally wild and domestic animals in circuses who do NOT show signs of distress and suffering, in fact may also show signs of joy and pleasure. It is how all the aspects of their lives are managed and manifested that matters. These must take into account the needs of that individual animal so that s/he shows no distress and this can be done in circuses as well as other animal keeping enterprises.

Since circuses, “of their nature” do not cause suffering, then like pet keeping, parenting, horse keeping & riding they must be improved, not banned. Children and pets can have bad parents and owners, farm animals with bad farmers, horses with bad horse owners and trainers but it does not mean that we must ban all of these animal contacts because it is not necessary that the animals suffer in any of these enterprises.

There are no good arguments – or any good science – which demonstrate that all animals suffer in circuses or any of these other animal keeping enterprises, and making a distinction between “domestic animals” and “traditionally wild animals” most of whom have been captive born, assumes that there is a distinction between the sentience, ability to suffer and mental attributes of wild and domestic animals although the scientific evidence indicates the contrary: domestic animals are also sentient and have needs and desires depending on their life time experiences and their species.

Circuses, like other animal keeping enterprises, can also give the animals a life of quality, and save them from slaughter. Thus, if we ban circuses, then we must also ban parenting, pet keeping and horse riding because it may be done badly. I have just published a paper on the mental similarities of all mammals, which includes humans. Animals 2017, 7(12), 87; doi:10.3390/ani7120087

There are very important arguments why pleasant interested contact between animals and humans should be encouraged and fostered and circuses can do this.  These are: 1) because relationships between humans and non-human animals can be mutually rewarding and enriching for both (and not just for therapy). 2) Because humans then have some experiences of direct contact, experience the emotions and mental abilities of different animals and realise that they too are sentient, thinking beings with desires and needs of all kinds, have value in themselves (not just an instrumental value for humans to benefit from) and therefore must be conserved. No TV documentaries, films, or watching through binoculars will provide these emotional exchanges & experiences that contact with others does provide, but it MUST & CAN BE DONE WELL.

Dr Marthe is Director of the Eco Research & Education Centre, a Consultant on Ecological Agriculture & Animal Behaviour & Welfare Problems.

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