Taking animals out of the circus in Limerick

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ELEVEN Irish local authorities have now passed motions banning circuses with animals from performing on publicly-owned lands. Ahead of councillors in Limerick voting on this issue next week, Alan Jacques takes a look at the arguments for and against animal-act circuses.

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THERE’S an old wisecrack that if you want to kill a circus, you go straight for the juggler!

And with 11 local authorities across Ireland having now banned animal-act circuses, the circus industry must probably feel as though it’s now on the endangered list.

Galway City Council is the latest to back a ban on animal-act circuses. Councillors in the City of Tribes passed the motion overwhelmingly last week, meaning circuses that use animals will no longer be granted a licence to perform on local authority-owned lands.

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Circuses will still be able to apply for a licence to perform on private grounds, but it is hoped that private landowners will now follow the Council’s lead.

Galway now joins Arklow, Clonakilty, Cork, Drogheda, Fingal, Monaghan, Moyle, South Dublin, Waterford and Wicklow in banning such circuses.

Limerick is next up under the spotlight as Fine Gael councillor for City West, Daniel Butler, has proposed a similar motion, which will be voted on next week.

But rather than been seen as a move to destroy the circus industry and jeopardise the livelihoods of those who work in it, statistics indicate the opposite is actually happening, and that more than twice as many people now visit animal-free circuses as opposed to those with animals.

Animal Defenders International (ADI) and Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN), who work together to campaign against the use of animals in circuses across Ireland, are confident that taking animals out of circuses will have economic benefits for the industry.

The two animal advocacy groups maintain that circuses can still thrive and even increase overall attendance without the stigma of animal suffering. They cite Cirque du Soleil as an example of animal-free circuses, generating an estimated $810 million a year in the US alone.

Interestingly, Pierre Parisien, artistic director of Cirque du Soleil, once remarked, “We will never have animals in our shows. They are animals, not performers. They should be in the jungle”.P1090964

A 2005 poll by ADI also revealed that attendance at animal-free circuses had risen from six to 16 per cent in the previous five years, with attendance at animal circuses dropping by 7 per cent over the same period.

Support for a ban on animal-act circuses in Limerick has grown in recent weeks with the ISPCA, Limerick SPCA, Anti-Austerity Alliance, musician Sharon Shannon, model Madeline Mulqueen and Fair City actress Rachel Pilkington among those who’ve come out in favour of the move.

Limerick Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea told the Limerick Post this week that he too believes that animal-act circuses should be banned. Deputy O’Dea said he does not believe wild animals should be used for entertainment purposes and added that he would not visit an animal-act circus.

Cllr Daniel Butler, who tabled the motion, said he is totally opposed to animal-act circuses, and described the keeping of wild animals in confined spaces far from their natural environment as a “cruel and unnecessary practice”.

Limerick Animal Welfare (LAW) also came out this week in full support of the proposed animal-act circus ban. LAW chairwoman Marion Fitzgibbon commented, “Circus animals spend much of their lives confined in cramped cages, travelling from site to site. Conditions are little better once they arrive and it is impossible to provide acceptable exercise areas for animals like elephants and tigers.”

“We can only imagine the stress the animals endure. The exercise areas are usually small, laid out on open grass and often shared between different groups of animals, even during the limited time that access is made available. Large cats are confined to their wagons for 90 per cent of the time, while elephants are shackled by front and/or hind legs for over 60 per cent of the time,” she claimed.

“Animals travelling in circuses spend two to three months stationary in winter quarters. Housing is often inadequate and animals are often confined in buildings for the entire time. It is cruel to keep them in cramped unnatural conditions, unable to exercise and display their natural behaviour patterns.

“In this year, when Limerick celebrates the title of City of Culture, let us proclaim that Limerick will no longer welcome animal-act circuses,” the LAW spokeswoman pleaded.

Both ADI and ARAN also insist that circuses cannot hope to replicate a wild animal’s natural habitat; or create an environment where its natural behavioural repertoire can be satisfied while on tour. The animal rights groups say that in circumstances of constant travel, with most of the year spent in temporary, collapsible accommodation, welfare will always be compromised.

A report based on observations by ADI field officers of seven circus animals touring Ireland between 2000 and 2003, revealed that animals, of which there was at least 147, endured “severe confinement in deprived and unnatural environments, a lack of enrichment, inadequate diets and physical abuse”. The animal rights group, with offices in the UK and USA, also noted animals displaying “disturbed behaviour” such as pointless repetitive movements, which they claim indicates severe stress.

In 2012, little seemed to have changed when the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) conducted a study of the use of animals in circuses across the whole of Ireland. The most comprehensive report carried out to date on animal circuses in Ireland, the CAPS study highlighted serious concerns over circus animals’ restricted lives, inadequate accommodation, constant transportation and unnatural social groups. Veterinary comments in their report also suggested that health and welfare risks for animals were high.Circus Gerbolla 140209 Tullamore Co. Offaly

Limerick founder of ARAN, John Carmody, who has been campaigning for animal rights for over 20 years, feels it is no longer acceptable to use animals for entertainment. This he says, is not the behaviour of a civilised, advanced society.

“Circuses can continue to be enjoyed by everyone without the suffering of animals. The tricks that animals perform do not provide an educational or genuinely life-enriching experience for children. In fact, these performances teach disrespect for other species,” said Mr Carmody.

The outspoken local animal rights advocate says that with the best will in the world, the circumstances of the travelling circus cannot provide standards of welfare and husbandry that will enable animals to adequately express their natural behaviour to the level where optimum physical and psychological health is maintained. Mr Carmody has no doubt, that by the most commonly accepted measure of welfare, that animal circuses cause suffering.

“There is a strong case that the use of all species should be stopped and the case for wild/exotic species is overwhelming,” he declared.

Not surprisingly, the circus industry feels Mr Carmody and his ARAN network are guilty of misleading the public and holding extreme views. A statement from Tom Duffy’s Circus recently said, “They don’t want to see any animals in circuses or zoos. They want to ban horse-racing and stop us eating meat. Some even believe we shouldn’t have pets.”

It continued, “We take great pride in our animals and the level of care we provide to them. At most performances, we give our audiences the opportunity to see where our animal family members live, eat and sleep. On this year’s tour, the public can see our horses, ponies and llamas, and visit the pools where our sea lions, Andrew, Nelson and Ziggy swim.”

Marketing manager of Fossett’s Circus, Charles O’Brien believes that a total ban on animal presentation is not the best solution to ensure the wellbeing of circus animals. Instead, he is calling for properly drafted legislation, effectively enforced, coupled with stringent penalties for circuses in breach of such legislation.

“We abhor animal cruelty and would fully support any sanctions or penalties imposed by the relevant authorities upon the circuses involved,” said Mr O’Brien.

Avid circus fan Niall Carey, from Ballinacurra Gardens, agrees with these sentiments.CBC tiger 140813

He hasn’t missed a touring circus in the city in the past 60 years and is adamant that circus animals are treated with the greatest of care. Well-known for his long involvement with the boy scouts and love of live entertainment, Niall strongly believes that an outright ban on animal act circuses is not the way to deal with animal cruelty issues in the circus industry. He also feels that more stringent penalties for circuses that mistreat animals is the best solution.

“The circus gives children and families an opportunity they don’t normally have to see wild animals. By taking animals out of the circus, you are going to kill a great tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation,” Niall predicts.

“Animals are very much part of the circus family. They are treated with kindness and well groomed and cared for. Their trainers, who must firstly be appropriately trained before they can handle them, love the animals. I remember Fossett’s Circus had two ponies stolen years ago and it was like losing a child, they were so upset,”  he tells the Limerick Post.

“There’s an atmosphere at a circus like nowhere else. It’s a family show with no sex or violence or vulgarity. It’s suitable for all ages, a family show. The animals are very well looked after and I’d have grave concerns about the impact this ban would have.

“The zoo is 120 miles away so children would not get the opportunity to see wild animals up close if animal-act circuses are banned,” he added.

Over 20 countries have now prohibited either all animals or wild animals in circuses, and several more are working on legislation. The national animal welfare organisation ISPCA and the Ulster SPCA are completely opposed to any circus using animals in Ireland and are backing calls for an island-wide ban.

Dozens of campaigners are due to descend on Limerick this weekend to rally public support for a motion that would prohibit any animal-act circus using land owned by the city and county council.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s protest, ARAN spokesman John Carmody commented, “Councillors need to be on the right side of history for this issue is absolutely indefensible when it comes to animal suffering in circuses.

“We would urge councillors to do the right thing, and that is to vote yes, because we cannot be a City of Culture without being a city of compassion and kindness.”

Novelist Erica Jong once said that every country gets the circus it deserves. Next Monday, Limerick city and county councillors will vote on the kind of circus they believe best reflects the values of the people they represent.Camels at Courtney Brothers Circus 290313 2