Ringling Brothers’ Barnum & Bailey Circus claims it advocates for the conservation and care of endangered species, such as the Asian elephant, by touring the country and "displaying their natural behaviors to patrons in an entertaining fashion." But if you take a good look at the reality of a circus animal’s life, it’s not the pretty picture circuses hope to paint. Tearing an animal away from his family, confining him to a box car for as many as 50 weeks per year, chaining him in a basement, and hitting him with bull hooks to make him do tricks is neither natural nor entertaining. Circus animal abuse is not overt, but systematic—resulting in a lifetime of boredom, sadness, and pain for the animals.
PAWS and its partners in the animal welfare community have successfully conveyed these harsh realities to the people of Seattle and Tacoma. Citizens have increasingly stopped supporting circuses with animal acts; so much so, these major cities are no longer considered profitable, therefore halting animal circus tours there during all of 2003.
However, this year, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus discovered a new audience and a new venue in a quieter, smaller corner of the Puget Sound, the Everett Events Center—right in PAWS’ backyard. For four days in September, PAWS staff and volunteers together with fellow animal welfare groups, surrounded the center to speak out for wild animals performing in the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. Some PAWS members dressed as clowns and passed out educational materials, while others stood a silent vigil by holding signs honoring the lives of the many animals that died during the past five years. Whatever the vehicle used, PAWS representatives made our message clear— "Keep Wild Animals Wild!" Some circus-goers tore up their tickets and left the line; others sent letters to PAWS after they had seen the show. One e-mail commented that every animal handler there carried not treats with them, but bull hooks, whips, and prods. We even persuaded a few sponsors to withhold their support the next time around.
Unfortunately, there may be a next time. The Everett Events Center, holds at most 10,000 people, a much smaller and easier venue to fill. Even though our message has reached thousands, there is still work left to do.
PAWS’ mission—to advocate for animals through education, legislation, and direct care—speaks directly to the plight of wild animals in the circus. Our humane education program teaches school children about the majesty of wild animals. We have supported legislation that protects exotic wild animals in the past and will continue to do so in the future. As long as circuses continue to visit our community, PAWS will be there in force— speaking out for those who cannot defend or speak for themselves.