It is with shame that I have to confess that some 28 odd years ago – well, when I was eight if you insist on that level of precision – I badgered my parents into taking me to what was probably the first animal circus to visit Malta. Real, honest-to-goodness lions! And tigers! Elephants! Seals! I wanted in.
With the naiveté that you find in kids, I hadn’t actually realised that what I would be seeing were caged, unhappy versions of these animals. So my parents decided that it would probably be more effective to enlighten me with an actual experience. In fact it didn’t take me long to figure out that these animals were, essentially, nothing less than prisoners. Why weren’t the lions grazing outside? (May I remind you that I was eight at the time). Why were they being made to do stupid things?
So upset was I that we left halfway through. My parents’ reaction was a happy one: their kid wasn’t a moron to be kept entertained by the sight of some poor bear that’s forced to dance for the pleasure of other morons, after all. The circus outing was chalked down to a positive educational experience. Practically every year, the circus returned. I never asked my parents to take me back.
You’d think that 28 years on, given that nowadays there’s a tad more awareness about these issues, the Maltese would have tumbled on to the fact that an animal circus is very poor form of entertainment. But no. Every year the same circus hits town and the usual suspects troop down to “see the animals”, with kids in tow (happily, the school outings have been stopped, bravo to the Ministry of Education).
But the private stupidity goes on.
Oh look, a lion.
Did you see how big it is? Good thing it’s tied up in that cage, eh?
Oh and there’s an elephant too.
They’re all tied up but it’s ok, ‘cos it keeps the lowest common denominator happy and entertained.
Only it is not okay. You are not doing a service to your kids by taking them to see an animal circus. I won’t say that they’ll all grow up into torture-thirsty psychopaths if you do that (though there is a chance of that happening, yes). But you’re certainly not gaining any brownie points in the character formation class. Let’s have a look at the message you’re giving your kids when you force it down their throats that a skinny, unhappy, caged lion is a fun thing to see.
1. You’re teaching them that bending the weak to suit your will is fine. Look at the lion jumping through that fiery hoop for your pleasure. Does the lion do it because he thinks it’s a jolly good idea? No, he does it because his trainer has the power to hurt him if he doesn’t comply. The power to withold food, to make his life even more miserable than it already is. The lion is in a position of weakness. What does a kid take from all this? That if, somehow, we’re in a position to wield power over someone, hey then it’s ok to trample all over their rights and their freedom. Just the perfect training to raise a nasty, little despot.
2. You’re teaching them that dignity is something to be bought with a few Euros. The stupidest excuse for animal circuses that I’ve heard is the one that goes like this: using wild animals in commercial acts is fine ‘cos the animals are given a sheltered life and a reliable food source in exchange for their circus acts. Right. So were slaves in ancient Rome. And we know how that story ended.
The second part of this argument usually revolves around the fact that trainers love their animals and treat them well. Proponents of this theory usually fail to come up with a convincing reply when I enquire about the methods of “persuasion” used when trying to convince an animal perform a trick. And don’t give me bull about positive training; these are potentially dangerous animals we’re talking about, not a show-dog. No amount of positive training will convince a leopard to act the fool for your pleasure. So yes, kids, it’s perfectly fine to beat up someone if he doesn’t do exactly as you say.
3. You’re teaching them that life is a commodity, to be used and abused only as long as you have use for it. By “life”, I mean someone else’s life, of course. Elephant too old to perform after a lifetime of slavery? Get rid of him and make the problem go away. I’m sure I don’t really need to spell out the corollary a child will take from this. Bored with your dog now that it’s not a playful puppy anymore? Get the parents to get you a new and more exciting pet. And later on in life, when your friends or business associates are no longer useful, well… a spot of backstabbing usually does the trick.
If you’re the person responsible for raising one of these cold bastards, what can I say? Congratulations, you parent of the year, you. Of course, I exaggerate somewhat. But the basics are there. If you want to give your kid a better chance at growing up to be a kind, well-adjusted adult then you’re better off taking them to help out at an animal shelter than to the circus.
I know that at this point some genius will come out of the woodwork with the usual “but they’re just animals, there to serve our will”. Heavens know that I’m no PETA fundamentalist – indeed, such people scare me. But this doesn’t mean that I have to condone another living being’s lifetime of slavery in the name of “entertainment”. So cut it out with the “they’re just animals” crap. Of course, there will always be some staunch catholic who is eager to remind us that animals have no soul (whatever that may mean). If you’re one of the latter, I throw St Francis of Assisi back in your face. That much I remember from all those boring catechism lessons.
Animal circuses have already been banned in a number of (apparently more civilised, more sophisticated) countries: Bolivia, Austria, Singapore and, soon, in the UK following a historic vote in parliament. Maybe one day we too will join the ranks of the civilised.
UPDATE: someone posted this link on Facebook. It pretty much validates my above arguments in professional lingo, in case common sense was not enough.
An Anti-Animal Circus protest is being held on Tuesday December 20. The meeting point is the former City Gate at 18:00 hours. For more information click here.
Image courtesy of www.unleashed.org.au.