Hotel pools are devoid of swimmers at 8:00 in the morning, and I like to take the advantage of the opportunity to get a little sun and exercise first thing in the morning while traveling. However, this prime time for a solitary swim comes with the increased risk that the maintenance crew will also arrive to clean out the pool for the new day. So it happened one day not so long ago. I sat by the edge of the pool, feet dangling in the water and patiently waiting for the pool boy to skim debris out the water with the long pool net. We engaged in small talk for a while, and after asking how long I was going to be staying at the hotel, “Rusty” inquired as to whether I was heading for the “Big Top” that evening.
“The ‘Big Top,’ as in the circus?” I marveled. Apparently, the town’s biggest production of the year was the traveling circus that set up camp for a week, promising amazing sights and the display of death-defying feats to the delight of all who entered the giant tent.
It’s been quite a few years, but I have been to a circus a few times. The beautiful costumes, colorful clowns, and somewhat terrifying displays of human bravery were mesmerizing and certainly memorable. I ate more than my share of popcorn and snow cones and even relished in the purchase of my very own glow-in-the-dark sword. The circus certainly has a lot of fun oozing down the gum-covered bleachers. But, even as a child, I had a feeling that something just didn’t fit in with the whole production. Why were elephants made to walk around the ring in continuous circles, eyes glazed over and skin sloughing off? Why were lions whipped and forced through flaming hoops when it clearly made them agitated? Was that really a chimpanzee with a heavy chain on it’s neck, being pushed with a stick so he would run on a ball? I could understand humans willingly submitting themselves to the circus antics, but to involve animals that didn’t appear to enjoy their line of work , seemed a little strange.
Sitting on the sunny poolside deck, hand up to my squinted eyes, I listened to Rusty as he described the location of the circus and pricing and where to park. Eventually, I had a chance to interject my thoughts into the conversation. I smiled and simply said, “Well, Rusty…I choose not go to circuses that use exotic animals in their shows.”
That sounded a little presumptuous…what Rusty needed was further information. I told him about what happens to primates specifically. These highly social animals end up spending far too much time caged alone, or in the presence of human company, which does not give them the chance to display natural social behaviors. Some circus workers have used unethical training methods, including the use of electric shock when animals do not cooperate. I elaborated on how primates often become uncontrollable when they reach adulthood and are either caged indefinitely or given away by the only family they have every known–their owners and/or trainers. Alternatively, some monkeys have their teeth pulled out to prevent biting. Primates in circuses often display visible signs of depression, fear, and neglect. I made sure to let Rusty know that unless the use of wild animals ceases in circuses, I will have to bypass the other fun events that The Big Top can deliver.
Rusty dumped the waterlogged grasshoppers he had gathered over the fence and then gave me a thoughtful look. “Well, I never really thought about that before. Poor little ‘fellars. Guess I might head down to the Kickstarter tonight instead.” Well, it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for me to tell you what type of club the Kickstarter is, but by this point, the pool was sparkling clean, so I decided to let it go. I dove in with a smile.
**Be sure to read our posting about “Tilin,” a Hamadryas Baboon rescued from a Bolivian Circus by Animal Defenders International.