Performing Circus Animals Ban

(6.15pm 14 September Parliament House Sydney)

I have tabled a petition calling for a ban on forcing wild animals to perform in circuses. The petition has been signed by more than 10,000 New South Wales citizens. The petition was created by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Animals Australia and Animals Asia and the ban has wider support from Voiceless, Animal Liberation, the Humane Society International, Young Lawyers Animal Law Committee, the World League for the Protection of Animals, Pals@Pilch, Sentient and the Animal Societies Federation of New South Wales.

Most people think that wild animals are no longer forced to perform in circuses because this practice is inherently cruel and archaic, but a small number of circuses in New South Wales still use monkeys, lions and, until only recently, elephants—Stardust and Lennons Bros are two such circuses. Wild animals are not meant to live, travel and perform in circuses, and circus life causes them immense psychological and physical suffering. Wild animals have natural instincts and they need to socialise and carry out natural behaviours that are impossible in a circus. Elephants live in herds and roam grasslands, travelling tens of kilometres on any day. They cry, laugh and play and grieve the loss of a family member. Lions typically live in grasslands in prides of related females with their offspring and a small number of males. They spend most of their days resting and socialising by rubbing heads against each other and grooming. They then hunt at night.

Monkeys are intelligent and live in social groups in which they help and care for each other. They spend hours taking bugs and debris out of each other's fur. Their facial expressions show love, fear, anger and sadness that create strong bonds. The life of these animals in the wild is in stark contrast to the regimental training, constant performance, confinement, and road travel in cages, which is a regular part of a circus routine. Circuses deny exotic animals the opportunity to maintain instinctive social bonds, making life sad and painful. Wild animals need a high level of stimulation and most wild animals in circuses display stereotypical behaviours that show their stress and boredom, such as repetitive pacing and swaying. In 2009 the journal Animal Welfare published the article Are Wild Animals Suited to a Travelling Circus Life, which concluded that circuses could not meet the essential animal welfare needs of exotic animal species.

The report found that circus animals spent most of their day in confinement, some time performing or training, and the rest of their time in exercise pens that were significantly smaller than minimum standards for outdoor zoo enclosures. Their social groups are artificial and cannot meet their social needs. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states that no matter how well a circus is managed, even if all legal requirements are surpassed, circus life always will be cruel to exotic animals because it is absolutely incompatible with their physiological, social and behavioural needs. This level of cruelty has no place in modern entertainment.

Forcing wild animals to do tricks serves no educational purpose. It teaches children nothing about the life of animals in the wild. Such circuses encourage children to disrespect animals and sentient beings in general, encouraging them to believe that animals exist solely for human entertainment. Wild animals in circuses also pose a dangerous threat to staff and patrons. In 2008 Arna, the circus elephant, who had been the subject of a very famous court case where it was argued that she suffered psychologically due to her solitude, attacked and killed her handler. In 2001 a lion tamer was attacked by three lions at a Lennons circus performance in Penrith. In 2004 a toddler at Ashton's circus tragically lost his arms when he stuck them through bars of a cage containing two tigons. There are many other examples.

A number of councils have banned circuses that use wild animals on their land, including Parramatta, Lismore, Wingecarribee, Newcastle, Blue Mountains, Warringah, Woollahra, Hornsby, Pittwater, Manly, Randwick, Ku-ring-gai, Lake Macquarie, Liverpool and Camden. However, it should be the State Government that ends this cruel practice, following the example of the Australian Capital Territory. The United Kingdom recently imposed a ban. I understand that bans exist in Portugal, Bolivia, Austria, Costa Rica, Hungary, Finland, India, Israel, Singapore and China, with nationwide bans on all animals in travelling circuses under consideration in Brazil, Colombia and Peru. The people of New South Wales want to move on from this archaic and cruel practice. I call on the State Government to take the lead and commit to banning the use of wild animals in circuses in New South Wales.

To read full discussion click HERE.