Note: This article’s statistics come from third-party sources and do not represent the opinions of this website.
What memories come to your mind when the word ‘circus’ is mentioned? Does your mind race to a memory of a bear riding a bicycle, a tiger jumping through a fiery hoop, or an elephant standing on its hind legs?
These tricks are magnificent to watch, and crowds cheer in applause. Sadly, these animals undergo confinement, domination, and violent training to learn these tricks behind closed doors.
Here are 18 disheartening circus animal statistics and facts you need to know in 2021.
18 Disheartening Circus Animal Statistics & Facts
- Entertainers use whips sticks on tigers drag them by heavy chains.
- Trainers use bullhooks and electric prods on elephants.
- Trainers mask the cruelty on elephants using Wonder Dust.
- Bears are agonized to stand on their hind legs or face strangulation.
- Training circus chimps also involves cruelty.
- Dehydration and starvation are part of training techniques.
- Trainers ignore the complex needs of wild circus animals.
- Circus animals spend most of their lives confined in chains or cages.
- Elephants in captivity contract the human strain of tuberculosis.
- Circus animals are susceptible to lameness and arthritis.
- The animals suffer from obesity.
- Circus animals are prone to zoochosis.
- Circus animals die premature deaths.
- Circus animals try to escape the cruelty but have nowhere to run.
- Provoked or escaped circus animals threaten circus members and the crowds.
- Circus animals die on the road.
- Only 48 countries in the world have regulated or banned the use of animals in circuses.
- US Department of Agriculture is yet to enforce circus animals’ rights.
The 6 Saddest Circus Animals Cruelty Training Facts
Most people have no idea of the ordeal circus animals undergo to learn and perform an unusual trick. Here are animal cruelty circus facts still happening to date.
1. Entertainers Use Whips Sticks on Big Cats and Drag Them by Heavy Chains
Big cats perform in circuses out of fear. Lions and tigers are powerful and wild at heart, so trainers strike them into submission with whips and sticks. Whipping is supposedly meant to teach the big cats that aggression and disobedience are punishable, discouraging acts. At other times, these big cats are tied heavy chains around their necks and dragged around.
The cruelty does not stop with big cats. Elephants, too, undergo intense ordeals.
2. Trainers Use Bullhooks and Electric Prods on Elephants
(Source: One Green Planet)
Unlike big cats, elephants have thicker skin. However, it does not save them from the bullhooks and electric shock prods.
Bullhooks are heavy, steel-tipped tools that look like fireplace pokers. Trainers use these weapons to cause extreme pain to the animal by digging into an elephant’s sensitive flesh like the ankles, inside of an elephant’s ear or mouth, or behind the ears.
Another painful and barbaric tool in the training process is the electric prod. This tool instills fear and pain in circus animals.
This is why elephants perform tricks on command out of fear that failure will result in a shock. They feel intimated by the mere sight of bullhooks and electric shock prods.
These barbaric tools often leave ugly marks and scars on elephants, but people rarely notice them. How so?
3. Trainers Mask the Cruelty on Elephants Using Wonder Dust
Wonder Dust is a gray powder that coagulates and conceals elephant wounds. The powder facilitates quick healing of lesions and sores, hence eliminating the need for bandages. You will likely find Wonder Dust applied on the tissue behind its ears, under the chin, around the anus, tender spots on the truck, and around the feet.
If you think you have read enough about circus animal abuse facts, here is what some bears face.
4. Bears are Agonized to Stand Upright or Face Strangulation
In Suzhou, China, bear cubs are taught to stand on their hind legs by having them chained by their necks then tethered to a wall. What happens when these cubs are exhausted from this unnatural behavior?
They have no option but to hold themselves up. Failure to do so results in choking and strangulation.
5. Training Circus Chimps Also Involves Cruelty
(Source: Jane Goodall Org)
Chimps, aged six to eight years, are challenging to manage and train. To control them, trainers fit them with shock collars, pull out their teeth, or whip them. As Jane Goodall explains, a smile on a chimpanzee’s face does not translate to happiness. On the contrary, it is a grin of fear.
6. Dehydration and Starvation Are Part of Training Techniques
Whipping and shocking are not the only punishments circus animals suffer from. They are also deprived of basic needs like food and water.
When circus animals learn and perform a trick successfully, they are rewarded with food and water. However, if they fail, they are denied food.
This conditioning teaches the circus animals that they have to perform an act successfully to eat and drink. The conditioning also enables trainers to establish their dominance on starved and dehydrated animals.
The 6 Most Shocking Circus Animal Abuse Facts
Suffering is an integral part of circus animals’ lives. Here is what we discovered.
7. Trainers Ignore the Complex Needs of Wild Circus Animals
It is thrilling to watch a tiger leap through a ring of fire. But did you know that these big felines are naturally terrified of fire? These big cats are whipped, starved, and punished to a point where they fear the fire less than the training ordeals.
Moreover, tigers are solitary animals. Sadly, they are forced to live in close proximity with other animals in the circus, which has led to fights and injuries. These felines are semi-nocturnal too. However, trainers force them to perform during the day.
When it comes to elephants, these animals thrive in herds. In the wild, female elephants enjoy the company of their moms for life while males leave the herd during their teens.
Sadly, calves as young as 18 months are dragged away from their mothers and forced to live in solitary. This is a trainer’s way of breaking the elephant physically and mentally.
8. Circus Animals Spend Most of Their Lives Confined in Chains or Cages
(Source: World Animal Protection)
96% of wild circus animals spend about 11 months a year in chains or cages. These animals are confined in tiny cages where they have to eat, defecate, and sleep during travel.
Take circus bears and large cats, for example. They are kept in a maximum of 5 x 10-foot cages for up to 26 hours in boxcars without climate control! This forces the circus animals to pace up and down for hours or stay sedentary.
It is only natural to find severe sores and bruises on these animals due to rubbing their bodies repeatedly on the cage bars. And that’s not all.
9. Elephants in Captivity Can Contract the Human Strain of Tuberculosis
Elephants are more susceptible to the human strain of tuberculosis compared to other circus animals. They are known to carry the bacteria and transmit it to humans, particularly small children. Tuberculosis is transmitted through air, meaning anyone, whether human or elephant, who comes into contact with the infected animal is at risk.
In 2009, Tennessee suffered a serious outbreak that was linked to tuberculosis-infected circus elephants. In 2013, eight zoo workers in Oregon contacted TB after their close contact with an ill elephant. Unfortunately, some elephants have died from tuberculosis.
10. Circus Elephants Are Susceptible to Lameness and Arthritis
Did you know that elephants can walk up to 50 miles a day in the wild? It turns out that they suffer physical problems when they do not move. Sadly, walking is a luxury among circus elephants, and most do not walk over 30 miles during captivity.
A recent survey on five elephants of African descent and 62 of Asian descent showed that these animals suffered from chronic arthritis, lameness, and rheumatoid disorders. The elephants received an average walk of 45 minutes a day, which is incomparable to the animal’s physical needs. The survey also showed that the elephants had to endure standing on hard concrete surfaces for extended periods, a recipe for rheumatoid disorders, lameness, and arthritis.
The foot issues result from circus animal abuse, but the elephants get euthanized for getting ill.
11. The Animals Suffer from Obesity
When species like monkeys, tigers, ponies, or elephants are denied mobility and exercise and confined to small cages for endless hours, they are forced to battle obesity. There have been elephant calves chained for 23 hours a day when undergoing the brutal ‘breaking process.’
12. Circus Animals Are Prone to Zoochosis
(Source: One Green Planet)
You must have seen lions, tigers, and bears pacing back and forth in their cages, but have you ever wondered why they do so? It is due to extreme frustration and increased mental stress, also known as zoochosis.
Captive circus animals are deprived of their natural behavior, stimuli, and environments. They begin to manifest abnormal behaviors to cope with the overwhelming distress. So, the next time you see a circus animal engaging in self-destructive behavior, pacing, rocking back and forth, or grooming incessantly, it could be suffering from zoochosis.
The 4 Worst Animal and Human Deaths in Circuses Facts
It is heartbreaking that circus animals die premature deaths after living an unnatural life of beatings, rigorous training, chaining, caging, and misery. Humans, too, face death threats from interacting with circus animals.
13. Circus Animals Die Premature Deaths
(Source: Born Free USA)
At least 65 circus elephants have died prematurely between 1994 and 2016. Wild elephants live for 60 to 70 years, but captive elephants are often dead before they reach 40. Some of these circus elephants are euthanized due to osteoarthritis, tuberculosis, or declining health.
Apart from elephants, big cats also die prematurely from living in captivity. It is estimated that 126 big cats have died from suffering from zoochosis.
14. Circus Animals Try to Escape the Cruelty but have Nowhere to Run
(Source: World Animal Protection)
Some circus animals snap after enduring constant abuse. When this happens, they attempt to flee from the cruelty of their harsh trainers and the noisy circus. But where can they possibly run to? Nowhere.
In August 1994, Hawaii residents watched as one circus animal tried to escape. Tyke, a female African elephant, had had her fair share of the circus life.
She tried to flee and, in the process, seriously injured her groomer and killed her trainer. Her freedom was short-lived as she spent 30 minutes running through the streets of Honolulu before the local police gunned her down with 87 bullets. She died aged 21 years.
In 2019, a zebra named Pumba escaped a circus in Germany. It caused a collision between two cars as they attempted to avoid hitting it. However, there were no serious injuries or fatalities. Sadly, Pumba was shot dead when authorities failed to contain him. Instead of using a tranquilizer dart, the rescue officer opted to fire a lethal bullet. Disheartening right?
15. Provoked or Escaped Circus Animals Threaten Circus Members and the Crowds
(Source: PETA, PETA)
When Tyke the elephant escaped, she killed her trainer and injured a dozen spectators. Between 1987 and 2019, there have been 20 human deaths from circus elephant incidents and less than 140 documented injuries to humans.
Ettore Weber, a circus trainer, also suffered the same fate. As he was prepping four tigers for a show, one of the tigers snapped and knocked him down while the rest pounced on him. The medics or fellow trainers could do nothing to help except watch the tigers play with Weber’s maimed body for half an hour. These tigers had persevered too much, and their way of speaking out was through lashing out, which proved fatal for Weber.
16. Circus Animals Die while Traveling
(Source: ABC News)
It is no wonder that some circus animals have died when traveling. They are hauled in poorly ventilated boxcars and containers while enduring extreme weather conditions.
In 2009, a lioness and eight tigers died during a 20-hour trip inside a refrigerated container in a truck. According to local authorities, these animals died as a result of inhaling exhaust fumes. They explained that the felines inhaled the exhaust fumes while locked in a container without heating or air conditioning and froze to death.
The 2 Most Notable Cases of Government Intervention on Circus Animal Abuse
Here are more disheartening facts about how the municipalities and states have acted about circus animal abuse.
17. Only 48 Countries in the World Have Regulated or Banned the Use of Animals in Circuses
(Source: Federal Circus Bill)
Out of 195 countries, only 48 countries have taken measures to limit or ban animal circuses. Bolivia was the first country to manage and ban the use of domestic and wild animals in circuses. Other countries have followed suit, and there is hope that this number will increase since circuses with human entertainers are gaining popularity.
18. US Department of Agriculture is Yet to Enforce Circus Animals’ Rights
(Source: Born Free USA)
The US Department of Agriculture is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) but has failed to do so. Even after listening to eyewitness accounts, sworn testimonies from circus employees, and apparent physical trauma on the animals, the officials have failed to take action. Why?
As of 2018, there were only 112 inspectors responsible for monitoring the living conditions in 8,272 facilities, with more than 2,600 were licensed exhibitors who worked in circuses. This proves that law enforcement and inspections are a problem.
Do Animal Circuses Still Exist?
Sadly, they do. Only 48 countries have banned or regulated this show business which means there are hundreds of animal circuses.
Which Countries Have Banned Animal Circuses?
They include Austria, Bosnia, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Denmark, England, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Guatemala, Greece, Hungary, Iran, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Latvia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Malta, Mexico, Macedonia, Norway, Peru, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan, Netherlands, Ukraine, and Wales.
What Can I Do to Help Circus Animals?
For starters, refrain from attending circuses that use animals for entertainment and sign petitions to stop animal cruelty. You can also attend animal-friendly circuses.
Moreover, you can educate your kids or those around you about what circus animals go through. Doing so can help raise awareness and help ban animal circuses.
Animals, whether wild or domestic, deserve to live without abuse, torture, and mistreatment. It is unfair for any animal to spend most of its life chained or caged in the name of entertainment. It is time the circus animal list came empty.
Featured Image Credit: David Tadevosian, Shutterstock
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.