Animal-free circus

Toni Brockhoven, Beauty without Cruelty

It’s that time of year again that the animal circus will be coming to Cape Town, including stops in Mitchell’s Plain and Muizenberg.

The use of animals, including wild cats, in the circuses is an outdated and barbaric institution which has no place in 2017.

There is nothing educational about seeing a majestic animal doing silly tricks.

The nine judges of the Constitutional Court all recently recognised the sentience of animals, handing down, in December, a unanimous judgment which recognises animals have intrinsic value as individuals, animals are sentient beings capable of suffering and experiencing pain, guardianship of the interests of animals reflects constitutional values and the interests of society at large, and animal protection safeguards the moral status of humans and the degeneration of human values.

In handing down judgment ConCourt Judge Sisi Khampepe, representing a full bench of nine judges, said: “The rationale behind protecting animal welfare has shifted from merely safeguarding the moral status of humans, to placing intrinsic value on animals as individuals.”

Thus, local governments have no place actively encouraging the inherent animal abuse of the circus, by issuing permits, in which animals spend months travelling in small, bare cages. Being captive bred does not make them domestic or docile.

The stress of continued confinement as well as the transportation result in long-term suffering and a lack of appropriate social interaction, no time spent foraging and the restricted freedom to perform natural behaviours represent stressors for captive animals. It doesn’t matter that large cats sleep 20 hours a day. What matters is what they can or cannot do when they are awake.

That the SPCA does inspections, and verifies the animals are fed and sheltered, in no way infers that there is approval. On the contrary, there isn’t a single welfare organisation around the world which condones the inclusion of animals in the circus.

An 83 percent vote against animals in the circus, in a Carte Blanche poll last year, is the highest vote ever received on the show, and says something significant. A natural environment cannot be recreated in a circus due to the travelling, with inadequate accommodation and exercise areas and forced movement, handling by humans, noise, along with the confinement, results in both short-term as well as long-term behavioural and psychological effects.

Anyone who shares a home with cats knows how difficult it is to train them. Circus big cats still require the space and habitat to engage in limited natural behaviour. A circus trailer and small exercise cage does not, and cannot, meet even these most basic needs; there is no space for these animals to even build up to a full speed run, climb or claw at a tree or even get away from each other!

Humans get to go home after the show. The animals get to go back to their cage, to learn tricks and perform on demand.

If George, Knysna and recently Jeffreys Bay municipalities have been able to refuse entry to the animal circus, there is precedent and also a process which can be followed. This is Cape Town. We are meant to be the shining light of South Africa.

It’s time to show we care, and support animal-free circuses.