It is safe to say that everyone has had some sort of circus experience in their childhood. Corn dogs, cotton candy, ice cream, and funnel cakes fill our bellies as we watch elephants balance on a stool with their two front legs and lions jump through fiery hoops.
I have recently wondered why we grow up learning about animals’ habitats in the wild, yet pay good money to see them in a glass cage, behind bars, or entertaining us for laughs. We stand in awe seeing these wild creatures so up close and personal when in fact wild animals are not meant to be ripped from their homes and handled by humans.
The Washington County Fair is being held Aug. 10–13, and as an animal lover and activist, it’s important to me to shed light on the welfare of circus animals abused for our own entertainment. This year, the fair is going to host the James and Cristy Cole Circus, which commonly uses elephants, lions, tigers, camels, horses, ponies, and dogs in their acts.
Although many circus acts may seem funny or cute, it is a completely different world behind the scenes. Countless videos and articles regarding animal abuse and exploitation in the circus world can be found online. Elephants are “trained” under the mercy of a bullhook (heavy batons with a sharp steel hook on one end) forced to perform unnatural and painful tricks. The use of bullhooks has been banned in some cities, but the practice is still commonly used. Lions and tigers live in cramped cages and are routinely whipped into submission, constant traveling under any weather extreme with sometimes no access to food, water, or medical needs. These creatures were once living free in the wild.
Dr. Stephen B. Armstrong, a fellow PETA member, is one of many who speaks out against wild animals in the circus. He boldly states, “Circus animals are victims of abuse, enslaved for their owners’ enrichment and our pleasure; people who know this truth and attend the circus anyway are complicitly participating in animal abuse and animal cruelty.”
Among the James and Cristy Cole Circus, a Wild About Monkeys act and a Wild About Gorillas can be found at the fair as well. The Wild About Monkeys act is run by Kevin and Martina Keith who train and perform with baboons. It seems that this smaller act treats their monkeys humanely and positive reinforcement training is used, unlike most circus acts. However, Armstrong and many other PETA members disagree with training wild animals, humanely treated or not. Armstrong states, “The animals have had their brains rewired by training to behave in ways that entertain human beings. The activity is self serving. These primates should be placed in a sanctuary where they can live out their lives in a manner that is as close to natural as possible.”
On the plus side, the Wild About Gorillas act is surprisingly “animal free!” This act consists of Samson the gorilla and Delilah the baboon. They are said to be the most realistic and interactive gorilla and baboon on the planet. Samson and Delilah are available for pictures and hugs and are said to put on a fun show for the whole family. That would be a show I would attend — animal free, guilt free! Let’s have the animals who are born in the wild stay in the wild.
For more information on the Washington County Fair, visit washcofair.net.
For more information about circus animal welfare, visit peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/circuses.