so i had been thinking about the killing of that gorilla they called Harambe – who lived their whole life in zoos, behind cages, as a prisoner of entertainment.

there is a lot to unpack about all that, and right now i don’t have enough words to explain how it makes me feel… but it did remind me of this post i wrote a while back for another website (thus the click-bait title).

yes, i am aware that zoos are not technically circuses.
but when you think about it – they both function as a site that creates a spectacle of an animal’s life, as they conform to the misery & humiliation of living under the gaze of the human consumer-predator.
as far as i am concerned, they are different thorns on the same flower.



Who wants to live the life of a circus animal?

To rephrase that question: who wants to volunteer themselves to a life of confinement, of psychological and physical abuse, of exploitation for the entertainment and financial profits of others? I am going to assume you answered a resounding “Not me!” and continue.

No one would voluntarily choose that life, for themselves or another. And yet animal circuses still exist. Who is paying their own money to watch animals live that life?

People, that’s who. People who have been misinformed into believing that circus animals willingly perform tricks in the spotlight for our own personal entertainment, or people misled to think circus animals are travelling celebrities who retire each night in comfort.

This wishful naiveté exists primarily because people assume circus animals are “tamed”, and therefore a domesticated, friendly animal. An animal who you can build a close relationship of trust and friendship, like your cat or dog. But that doesn’t make sense, because you would never do things to an animal companion – or pay a stranger to do it – that are still being done to circus animals. And I’ll prove it to you right now with a list of seven things done to circus animals that would never be done to animal companions.

1.      Make your cat jump through fire.

Yes, some circuses still force animals to jump through fire rings – even after a government investigation has validated the fact that tigers are terrified of fire[1]. Hard to believe, I know.

You would never make your house cat do the same, because it’s viciously cruel and also because you know your house cat doesn’t ever listen to you anyway.


2.      Walk your dog with a bullhook.

Bullhooks are the notorious long clubs with sharp hooks at one end, used during training and live performances to cause “extreme physical coercion and violence”[2]

If you think you need a bullhook to walk alongside anyone, then you are doing it all wrong.


3.      Keep the animal in chains when you leave the house.

Some circus animals are literally held in chains when not performing, being confined to cement surfaces that cause painful foot problems, arthritis and other ailments[3].

Chaining anyone is a bad idea – unless it’s consensual.

4.      Train your cat to use the litter box by starving them.

Many former employees have reported that circus animals are routinely denied food and water in attempt to force them to learn performance routines, so that each animal associates food with obeying the trainer[4].

If you look after a cat and choose to neglect their food bowl, well then you must have never had the pleasure of waking up to a cat peeing on your bed at 2AM in the morning.

5.      Train your dog to fetch by hitting them.

Abusive training of animals appears to be common practice within many circuses, thanks to many undercover investigations[5] and thanks to court testimony from the Ringling Brothers Circus CEO claiming use of electric prods did not harm the animals[6].

So instead of using violence to get your way, try teach with love and aspire to be the person that your dog believes you to be.


6.      Travel endlessly to show everyone how your dog can play dead.

A typical circus like the Ringling Brothers Circus typically visit over 40 cities every year, forcing animals to travel on crowded trains, packed inside cages or tied down with chains[7].

Yes, your dog’s impression of playing dead may be hilarious but just upload it to Youtube like everyone else, okay?

7.      Have police shoot the animal if they run away.

There are infamous examples of elephants escaping their captivity during a circus performance, like Janet in Florida[8] and Tyke in Hawaii[9], only to be gruesomely murdered by police gunfire.

If your animal companion ever ran away, I’m really hoping that instead of reaching for a weapon you instead read these instructions prepared by One Green Planet[10]!

It should be clear to see why animal-free circuses are becoming more popular around the world[11], with countries like Bolivia leading the way by passing laws that state circuses “constitute an act of cruelty”[12]. But there still are circuses using animals – so keep educating yourself, educating others, organizing boycotts and making space for animal-free circuses to visit your area[13]. And if you need a reminder about why we do this, watch this.[14] So when the animal circus comes to your town, make sure you are ready that it leaves for good. Your animal companions will thank you.



[1]  Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands, Wageningen University, “19 february 2008 – Projectvoorstel Ministerie LNV onderzoek welzijn circusdieren” (PDF). 19 February 2008..

[2] Performing Animal Welfare Society, “Animals in Travelling Shows”,

[3] Wildlife Advocacy Project. “Ringling Brothers Trial”.

[4] ASPCA, “Circus Cruelty”.

[5] PeTA. “Circuses: Three Rings of Abuse” Issues. Animals in Entertainment.

[6] FOX News “Circus CEO says elephants are struck, but not hurt”, Washingotn. March 3rd, 2009.,4675,RinglingapossElephants,00.html

[7] John Guedron, D.V.M., USDA Inspection Report 58-C-0295, 24 May 2001.

[8] St. Petersburg Times (May 6, 1993). “Elephant incidents in recent years”.

[9]  Daily Mail. “The moment a terrified rampaging elephant was shot almost 100 times in the street” News.


[11]  “Elephant Rampages” (PDF).

[12]  “Bolivia bans all circus animals”. The Guardian. July 31, 2009.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s