For well over a century, the Ringling Bros. travelling circus has raked in a big top's worth of profit showcasing a variety of exotic animal billed as 'performers' -- though in light of new revelations as to how they're treated, 'indentured servants' might be a more apt title. Following a slew of rather disturbing animal-welfare violations, the greatest show on Earth has agreed to settle a USDA dispute by paying $270 thousand and promising to improve conditions for animals -- like by not making their elephants perform while sick, or feeding their big cats meat tainted with feces.
According to a report from the AP, the USDA issued their largest civil penalty on Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, stemming from violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
An inspection report from August alleged that a 35-year-old female Asian elephant, Banko, was forced to perform at a show in Los Angeles despite a diagnosis of sand colic and observations that she appeared to be suffering abdominal discomfort.
The inspection reports also cited splintered floors and rusted cages used to contain big cats such as tigers, and an incident in March 2008 where two zebras briefly got loose from their enclosure at 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore. In 2010, another zebra escaped its enclosures in Atlanta and had to be captured by area law enforcement, according to the reports.
Although more egregious instances of animal abuse have been reported in the circus industry historically, these most recent violations made by Ringling Bros. hint at the underlying problem of using exotic animals for entertainment purposes in any context. When profits are paramount, as they are with the circus, the safety and well-being of animal performers are inevitably not -- leading ultimately to less-than-ethical treatment of them. While regulations may be in place to prevent some of the most horrific abuses, the very nature of the circus is exploitation of the voiceless for the sake of entertainment and that should be equally unacceptable.
There was a time perhaps when elephants, tigers and bears were thought of as mere 'beasts' to behold -- but thankfully nowadays the superior sentiment is that they are wonders to be revered. With that it mind, and the new allegations of mistreatment, it might be time for the US to join a growing number of nations throughout the world that have banned the circus outright.