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Circus no fun for animals?

In continuance of our report on Pet Chat Radio earlier today, the ongoing debate about the whether the use of animals in circuses is inhumane has once again surfaced as the Carson & Barnes Circus is set to begin a string of performances on several dates throughout Northern California next week. SFGate.com reports that Bay Area and national animal welfare agencies, including the Marin Humane Society, Humane Society & SPCA of Sonoma County, Citizens for Cruelty Free Entertainment, Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County, Pets Lifeline and the San Francisco SPCA, have publicly called for a boycott of the Carson & Barnes Circus, citing the company’s routine abuse of animals. These organizations are all strongly against the use of animals in circuses and the inhumane training methods that are often employed, such as whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods and bull hooks that can puncture and tear an elephant’s skin. When not performing, animals are often transported and confined in small, cramped cages.

According to a statement from PETA, the Carson & Barnes Circus has “failed to meet minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as established in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).” The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited Carson & Barnes Circus numerous times for failing to provide: veterinary care and minimum space requirements, shelter from the elements, properly maintained and adequately ventilated transport trailers and cages, proper fencing to protect spectators and the animals, clean water for the animals and updated animal health records.

The Carson & Barnes website counters these attacks saying that they are essentially “lies” and that, “Data suggests that elephants are not stressed when they travel and find the life ‘quite acceptable,’ and that working elephants are in better physical condition, have more muscle tone, greater stamina and less excess fat than their sedentary counterparts.”

From the Carson & Barnes Circus website:

“A part of circus history and a part of Carson & Barnes Circus are the animals. Animals have been a great addition to our family unit since the beginning. Often bred and born in the circus, our animals enjoy performing as much as their human counterparts. Appreciate the natural beauty, incredible force and speed, and God-given grace of these wondrous animals.”

The problem with this statement, many argue, is that making these animals perform unnatural tricks can be injurious and stressful. By showcasing elephants walking on their hind legs or tigers jumping through flaming hoops, circuses potray animals as creatures whose sole purpose is to amuse us.

There was indeed a time long ago when the circus was the only interaction many people had with exotic and wild animals. But now that we have easy access to zoos, Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel to help educate people about the natural habitats and behaviors of animals, many maintain that using them as circus performers has become an outdated, unnecessary and inhumane concept. So why are they are still used? Many opponents of circuses that the reason is purely monetary reward.

Twelve years ago, the Marin Humane Society attempted to block a Carson & Barnes circus in Novato. Thanks to the county’s unique permitting process, the organization was able to require that clean food and water and regular health monitoring of the circus animals be provided. “Circus officials were not happy about having to provide these basic needs and they have not been back to Marin County since,” said Marin Humane Society spokesperson Carrie Harrington.

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