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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A circus without animals

When I was a child, I loved the circus. Part of the attraction was the large animals, lions, tigers, and elephants that performed all the while appearing to teeter on the edge between obedience and deadly defiance. Only much later had it occurred to me that these animals are not like dogs, cats, and livestock, which have evolved in close association with us and no longer can live in the wild. Lions, tigers, and several other animals that are part of the spectacle of many circuses do not depend on humans for their lives and do not seek human companionship naturally.

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Tigers are part of many circuses, but in the end, they are not pets, they are wild animals.
Later, it occurred to me that tigers are in their natural habitat are in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth. Hunting, the international trade in wild animals for spectacles and exotic food, and habitat reduction have reduced tiger populations to the point of extinction. I was appalled that the world continued to act as always, with very little concern for this dramatic news. The contradiction between being able to place humans on the moon but unable to save such emblematic animals as tigers speaks poorly for our century. 

Tigers are not only rare, endangered species, they are wild animals that merit life according to their nature. Wild animals like tigers should live and die in the jungle, not in cages. When I realized that wild animals were subjected to harsh, severe treatments to perform in the circus, it made me think more about what circuses meant for tigers and other wild animals, even those whose populations in the wild are not at risk of extinction. For these animals, life in a cage means privation from what is found in their spirits. None of them would choose to live in dependence of people, in a cage, if only their cage doors were left open.

Furthermore, as the video above demonstrates, the circuses which make great presentations in Nicaragua do not treat these animals in any way as they should be treated. Imagine what it might mean to a tiger to be transported in the back of a pickup truck through the city of Managua. As the video shows, the animal became frightened, and his own reaction led to chaos inside the parking lot of Channel 10.

Fortunately, this animal did not harm anyone, nor was he harmed physically in the frightening event. But the video demonstrates what we already know, that tigers are not really appropriate to drive around town in pickup trucks or hang out with people.

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Protestors against the use of wild animals in circuses appeared by the hundreds! Photo Ilse Diaz.
Children of Nicaragua are just like any other children. They love clowns and music, and all the fanfare surrounding circuses. The child in all of us does. It had not occurred to me that circuses could do things different than those of my childhood, really, until I visited Europe and friends took me to see Cirque du Soleil. The entire circus was magical. Although I was older, it made me feel the thrills that I remembered when I saw the circus as a child. But there were no animals in the circus. No tigers, lions, nor elephants, not even dogs. The entire process of the animal-free circus was seductive. There were no signs outside proclaiming, "ANIMAL-FREE CIRCUS", no activists shaming me into purchasing a ticket. It was as if the animal issue were not even there. It was a fun circus, in fact it was memorable. And, it didn't have animals. 

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The use of wild animals in the circus is still permitted in Nicaragua, but many people actively oppose it. Photo Ilse Diaz.
One of the regional circuses recently came to Managua, Circo de Renato, from Mexico. This circus circulates throughout the region, from country to country, and Managua is visited regularly. Their use of animals is widely known and can be seen on lots of you-tube videos, such at this one:

Tigers in Circo Renato. 

Must a circus have wild animals to be fun? Of course not. What if?

What if?

The rights of an animal in Nicaragua are only now getting defined, legally. A recently passed law, Ley 747, requires that all domesticated animals be given humane treatment, even animals for consumption such as chickens and cows. The concept of animal welfare is new to Nicaragua, and some practices such as cockfighting and even worse practices are common in the countryside. The law makes a solid first step toward the treatment of domesticated animals, and even provides for animal sacrifice in the case of meat, cockfighting, and circuses. However, what is not clear is what should happen to animals that are clearly not domesticated. Some animals, even when born in captivity, are by nature wild. How should these animals be treated?

Circo Renato
Many people in Nicaragua think circuses should not use wild animals in their performances. Photo Ilse Diaz.
How Nicaragua chooses to treat wild animals has many implications. The first is that an important message can be transmitted to all, that animals have rights which also restrict us. We really don't lose much today if we can not see the animals in the circus, because the television shows with wild animals are every day more graphic. We can unite with Costa Rica, where circuses are not allowed to use animals. Another implication is that wild animals from our own forests can be protected more easily. Lots of wild animals in Nicaragua are captured and sold into the pet trade, and some of them become used in similar ways to circuses, adorning the entrances to hotels, restaurants and tourist centers.

Circo Renato
A circus without animals is possible! Photo Ilse Diaz.
Several groups of animal rights advocates in Nicaragua have united to demonstrate their discontent regarding the use of wild animals in the Circo de Renato, which is now showing in Managua. Last Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators arrived and made a peaceful presentation near the entrance of the circus. Another demonstration will occur this coming Saturday, beginning at 3 pm, and will continue until the circus stops showing wild animals or leaves.

Circo Renato
The circus had more people demonstrating against it than in paying customers last Saturday. Photo Ilse Diaz.
The law regarding animal welfare in Nicaragua does not explicitly prohibit the use of animals. Furthermore, the law has not been applied with a series of regulations. We are hoping the National Assembly will provide for regulations that are clear with respect to humane treatment of the animals in public spectacles such as circuses. These regulations should be sent to a vote in the assembly soon.

Circo Renato
Many people participated in the protest against the use of animals in the circus. Photo Ilse Diaz.
By insisting that circuses not use animals, we can generate a more educated, informed and sensitive public, where the issues of wild animals is taught to all, starting at an early age. Instead of capturing wild animals for use in circuses, we can work to protect their rights to live and die in the jungle, according to their nature. All children like to see wild animals, but there is no need for them to visit a circus to see them in stressful situations, far from their natural habitat. Wild animals should live and die in their natural habitat, not in a cage. We can watch them on Animal Planet!

animal welfare
Some mothers brought their children to demonstrate against the circus, rather than to pay for the use of wild animals in cages. Photo Ilse Diaz. 
These protests are having their effect. The visitors to the circus are not as high as the owners had probably expected. In fact, Renato was seen watching the protest, with a despondent look. The demonstrators are not bothering anyone, they are simply expressing their point of view without provoking any impacts on vehicular or foot traffic. The visitors to the circus enter and leave without any kind of threat or discomfort. Yet, all who have seen the demonstration have the chance to consider the issue and go down the path that I have also taken.
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Drivers and passengers along the Masaya Highway honked in approval as they passed the demonstration. Photo Ilse Diaz.

Circo Renato
There will be protests at the circus every Saturday, until the circus stops using animals or leaves. Photo Ilse Diaz.

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Not all children want to see wild animals in cages! Photo Ilse Diaz.

animal welfare
Creative and fun protest was made pacifically, and the message regarding the use of animals in the circus was heard by many. Photo Ilse Diaz.

Nicaragua
Animals are not clowns! Photo Ilse Diaz.


circus without animals
We would like to go to the circus, but please without using animals! Photo Ilse Diaz.



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Demonstration against animals in the circus in Managua. Photo Ilse Diaz. 

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Lots of smiles were seen during the demonstration against animals in the circus. Photo Ilse Diaz.

Circo Renato
The circus was practically empty, with more people outside protesting than paying customers. When will Renato produce a circus without animals? Photo Ilse Diaz.

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Hundreds participated in the demonstration against the Circo de Renato last Saturday. Photo Ilse Diaz.



Nicaragua
Many people participated and others waved and honked in approval as they passed. Photo Ilse Diaz.

Circo Renato
Drivers, pedestrians and visitors to the circus went on their way with a message regarding the rights of the animals used by the circus. Photo Ilse Diaz.

wild animals
How do we get to see circuses without animals? Photo Ilse Diaz.

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The streets took on a happy aspect as drivers honked in support of the protection of animals. Photo Ilse Diaz.

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Cars passed the demonstration, honking in approval. Photo Ilse Diaz.

animal welfare
Renato viewed the demonstration with concern, because few people actually paid to enter the circus last Saturday. Photo Ilse Diaz.

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Another voice in favor of the circus without animals. Photo Ilse Diaz.



Nicaragua
The treatment of animals has become a topic of much discussion in Nicaragua. Photo Ilse Diaz.
If you would like to participate in the advocacy of animal welfare in Nicaragua, there is much to do. Some people provide food, medicine, and sterilization to dogs that are found in the street without homes. FUNDECI/GAIA provides a shelter for several wild animals which are rescued from the pet trade or are found injured. We return them to the wild whenever it is feasible. You can volunteer or donate. We need food--nuts are especially needed for our macaws! Please call us at 8882-3992 or write us at apoyo@gaianicaragua.org if you would like to donate your time or provide for a meal for a rescued animal.








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