Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Dr Ted Friend

Personal Introduction

I am a professor of Animal Science at Texas A&M University, at College Station, Texas, USA. I am a native of New York and received my B.S. degree at Cornell University and my M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. I am also a Registered Professional Animal Scientist and a Diplomate of the American College of Applied Behavior Sciences. I have been conducting behavior and stress-related research on a wide range of animal species for over 35 years. Much of my research has been on animal welfare-related issues and was stimulated by requests from moderate animal welfare groups. In 1986 the Animal Protection Institute (based in California) honored me as their Humanitarian of the Year.

My experience with circuses and exotic animals began in 1995 when the General Manager of the largest tented circus in the United States, Carson & Barnes Circus, invited me to travel with them to learn about circus elephants and to report back to management my opinion as to how they were handling their elephants. At first, I was skeptical about circuses, having only heard the much-publicized animal rights side of the issue. From 1995 through 1998, I periodically traveled with the Carson & Barnes Circus, observing their practices and conducting research on the behavior and welfare of their elephants and tigers.

In 1999, the USDA APHIS Animal Care Program commissioned me to conduct several studies that involved a wide range of circuses and exhibitors, including Clark’s Tigers, Carson & Barnes, Clyde Beatty—Cole Brothers, Trunks & Humps, Arthurs Exotics, both units of Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus, Hawthorn Corp., Larry Carden, Josip Marcan). The Animal Care Program of APHIS is the unit that is responsible for inspecting circuses in the U.S. The administrators of Animal Care were genuinely interested in obtaining unbiased data on the welfare of circus elephants and large cats. Most of the research from those studies has been published in nine articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Circus personnel in the United States are very international in representation, so my students and I also observed and worked with many British and European animal trainers and animal acts. In 2006 I was asked by DEFRA to serve on the Animal Welfare Team that produced the “Radford Report” that has been often mentioned in these proceedings.

My Submission

This submission focuses on Section 2 of the draft bill—“THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE USE OF WILD ANIMALS IN TRAVELLING CIRCUSES.” For the convenience of the committee, I have reproduced the arguments from the draft bill in smaller font and italic, which are then followed by my observations.

15. The use of wild animals in travelling circuses reflects a traditional, but outdated, view of wild animals. Travelling circuses are no longer one of the only ways to see and learn about wild animals. Other settings, such as modern and well managed zoos, offer greater assurance of respect for the intrinsic value of the specimen and species, and for the natural environment.

15. Watching highly trained horses perform in the London Olympics was no more outdated than watching highly trained circus animals. The Olympic equine events, although clearly removed from the natural environment in which wild horses exist, were extremely popular and many people learned greater respect for horses, just as people do when attending a well-managed circus. Actually, in a circus, patrons are much closer to the performing animals than in equine events or in most zoo situations, and people can watch and learn about the animals’ husbandry and behavior by observing the animals and trainers before and after performances.

The openness of traveling circuses is a unique and very important aspect of circuses that affords people much greater access, resulting in greater respect for the intrinsic value of animals. Surveys of circus patrons in North America indicate that the vast majority of patrons attend circuses to see the animals, which I am sure is also the case in England. School children and other people often come to see the animals while circuses are setting up, during the day, and before and after performances, in addition to the actual performances. The photo from a British circus on the front cover of Martha Kiley-Worthington’s RSPCA commissioned study shows this very nicely (Figure 1).

For many of us, the moment when we decided that elephants were special and worth conserving was when our mother put us on a circus elephant ride. We got to touch and feel the animal, and although it may have been many years ago, we remember it as if it were yesterday. Depriving Britons of the opportunity to see and appreciate wild animals appears to be simply class discrimination, because it has been well established that there are no longer inherent animal welfare issues.

16. Captive wild animals have much the same genetic makeup as counterparts in the wild and retain their wild nature and natural instinctive behaviours. Their wild nature and innate value should be recognised and respected. Using wild animals solely for circus performance is unbefitting to their wildness and potentially harmful.

16. The “wild” animals that travel with circuses have been selected for their ability to adjust to and even thrive. The oldest elephants in North America are historically those traveling with circuses. Elephant training sessions and performances provide exercise and help compensate for the sedentary lives that most zoo elephants unfortunately now have because of the recent push by activists for “protected contact” in zoos. If a species is having chronic trouble coping with the circus environment, it would certainly not be able to consistently perform at the level needed for a successful circus. The animals in sanctuaries and zoos merely need to be alive and ambulatory to draw crowds, while performing animals need to be at their peak. Also, many species or breeds of what we consider to be very domesticated animals, eg, dogs, horses, pigs, cattle, cats, etc., can readily revert back to surviving in the wild. Similarly, wild horses, dogs, cats, pigs, etc., can be readily tamed, highly trained, and thrive in captivity because their natural behaviors are simply redirected.

17. There is little or no educational, conservational, research or economic benefit derived from wild animals in travelling circuses that might justify their use and the loss of their ability to behave naturally as a wild animal. The public can still attend numerous successful circuses that do not use wild animals and continue to enjoy the experience and the varied and exciting acts.

17. It is critical to remember that “ability to behave naturally as a wild animal” also includes extensive periods of hunger, forced migrations and death during droughts, a constant threat from predators and a very inhumane death when eventually caught, and a constant threat of injury from other members of the same species as the fight for dominance, breeding rights and limited resources rarely ceases. Although often romanticized, life in the wild is always full of challenges, most of which circuses have eliminated in return for the animal making a living by performing. Producers of “nature shows” carefully edit what they show the public so that they do not alienate the parents of young children with, for example, scenes of young elephants in the wild being eaten by lions, or dying from thirst or hunger.

Circuses provide people who would not otherwise be able to see and appreciate wild animals the opportunity to see these animals. The performances provide an obvious educational advantage by showing people how clever, conversant and athletic these animals really can be. Activists often claim that circus animals are taught to preform un-natural behaviours, such as elephants walking on their hind legs or preforming headstands. However, elephants commonly walk on their hind legs in attempts to reach browse that would otherwise be out of their reach during droughts (Figure 2). Also, wild elephants perform near headstands when trying to reach water that is in deep holes, breaking open a water melon, or when crushing an animal with their head that they perceive as a threat.

Circuses recognize that their animals can be a very important resource for research studies, and the level of training of the animals can make them very useful for a wide range of studies for which wild or untrained zoo animals are not useful. For example, circus elephants, expertise remove from circuses from circus veterinarians, and donations from circuses have been crucial in advancing international research on elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (a major killer of domestic and wild elephants), improving reproduction and artificial insemination (crucial to maintaining genetic diversity in the species), and elephant tuberculosis. Also, animals in British circuses were used for Dr. Marthe Kiley-Worthington’s RSPCA commissioned study entitled “Animals in Circuses and Zoos, Chiron’s World?” (Little Eco-Farm Publishing, 1990).

18. If a captive wild animal belongs to an endangered or threatened species or habitat (few of the species used in circuses do) then there is an even stronger argument only to use such an animal—if it must be used at all—for the greater end of conservation, education and/or the greater good of the species and/or natural environment. Such animals should not be used solely or primarily for entertainment and spectacle.

18. True, captive wild animals who often perform in circuses are often endangered or threatened in their native habitat, and have had to flee those conditions. But, it costs money to maintain these animals, and circuses are one way of maintaining important populations and genetic diversity without requiring government or charity support. Circuses are enthusiastic supporters of research and conservation programs, as mentioned above, and readily participate in international organizations that are attempting to maintain genetic diversity in captive populations and conserve wild populations.

19. In summary, the Government does not believe it is appropriate to continue to use wild animals in travelling circuses because:

It is not necessary to use wild animals in travelling circuses to experience the circus;

wild animals are just that and are not naturally suited to travelling circuses and may suffer as a result of being unable to fulfil their instinctive natural behaviour;

we should feel duty-bound to recognise that wild animals have intrinsic value, and respect their inherent wildness and its implications for their treatment; and

the practice adds nothing to the understanding and conservation of wild animals and the natural environment.

20. In summary, it is appropriate to continue to use wild animals in traveling circuses because:

wild animals are necessary to maintain the economic viability of traditional circuses because many people are attracted to circuses to see and learn about the wild animals;

research has shown, and the Government’s own “Radford Report” concluded, that the wild animals used in traveling circuses are well adapted to their life style and do not inherently suffer;

in many ways traveling circuses are more effective in instilling a respect for the intrinsic value and uniqueness of the wild animals used in their performances than when the public views sedentary con-specifics in zoo and sanctuary settings; and

traveling circuses reach a segment of the public who are not otherwise likely to travel to zoos or sanctuaries due to distance, cultural or economic reasons to view and experience wild animals, and depriving these people of that opportunity could be discrimination by the Government.

Figure 1


Figure 2


May 2013

Prepared 8th July 2013