LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Tigers back by popular demand - it's what the public wants to see says circus

An American circus that raises money for good causes is bringing back its tigers and elephants thanks to popular demand.

The Melha Shrine Circus, which supports charities including children's hospitals, lost money for the first time in its 63-year history last year, after dropping animal acts in the face of protests.

"We had people asking for refunds after finding out there were no animals," says circus chairman Allen Zippin, who has brought back elephants, tigers and dogs.

The news comes as America's longest-running circus, Ringling, prepares to pack its trunk after a fall-off in ticket sales following the retirement of its elephants last year - and proves that if circuses want to survive they have to please their friends not their enemies.

Animal rights protesters often argue that all-human shows like Cirque du Soleil don't need animal acts to thrill. But when the circuses they complain about stop using animals, those same protesters clearly don't support them by buying tickets.

Protesters make a lot of noise in the media, circus fans a lot less so. But as the Melha Shrine Circus has found, the ring of the cash register speaks louder than the shouts at the gate.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Circus Ambassador 2017

The Fédération Mondiale du Cirque has had a tradition since 2009 of awarding the prestigious title of Circus Ambassador each January to a personality whose contribution to the preservation, development and promotion of circus arts is an example to follow.The nominee in 2017 is Mr. Maxim Nikulin.

The plaque was handled by Mr. Urs Pilz, President of the Federation, at the Circus Directors’ luncheon in Monte-Carlo during the 41st International Circus Festival.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Clown Gathering UK offers great show!

If you're in reach of Lowestoft at the beginning of March, be sure to grab a ticket for A Variety of Clown Comedy at the Seagull Theatre. The show, on March 1 and 2 is the highlight of Clown Gathering UK, when clowns who have come together from all over the UK and as far away as Canada for a week of talks and workshops step on stage to show the public what they can do.

Last year's revue provided a unique chance to see such a wide range of clowns and clowning styles on one stage, and this year's show looks set to do the same.

Tickets are available from the Seagull box office on 01502 589726.

For more on Clown Gathering UK, click here.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Today Ringling, tomorrow your horse, dog, cat and Big Mac

The announcement of Ringling Bros circus closing this year, makes it an apt juncture to re-read the words of tiger tamer Thomas Chipperfield in the Times, above. (Click on the image and it should come up big enough to read)

The end of Ringling has been claimed as a victory by animal rights campaigners. It was their lobbying that led to the legislation in key American cities like Los Angeles that made travelling with an animal show as big as Ringling untenable - and it was when they took the elephants out of the show that people stopped buying tickets.

But where will the victory lead?

As Chipperfield points out, circuses have only ever been the thin end of the wedge. The animal rights movement is an ideology that wants to outlaw zoos, horse riding, pet ownership, meat eating, leather and even wool production. Peta is open about it, although no one seems to listen, or maybe care.

Perhaps one day, when it's their dogs and cats and Big Macs at stake, the world will remember that a lion tamer tried to warn them that it was about much more than circuses all along.

And that the elephants that disappeared from Ringling last year were really canaries in a coal mine.

For more on the issues of animals in the circus, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book for Anyone who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus. Click here to read the reviews on Amazon.

Monday, 16 January 2017

If the circus was a country...

I found these words by Jamie Clubb incredibly moving when I first read them, and at a time when the circus is hurting over Ringling‘s closure, now even more so...

Pablo Fanque
Britain's first black
circus showman
“Think of a society that, on a political basis, is both the capitalist and socialist's dream. Think of a society that employed ex-slaves ahead of everyone else and by its very nature is multicultural. Think of a society that has a hierarchy and even a system ingrained in culture and tradition and yet opened its doors to absolutely anyone who was willing to work hard and provide them with the realistic dream of climbing to the top of their professional tree. 

Mabel Stark
Tiger trainer
“Think of a society that always provided equal opportunities for men and women; a society that had a woman heading a strong family business years before women had the equal vote. Think of a society that provided highly profitable employment and success for the disabled when the rest of society only offered poverty or the workhouse. 

Alex Lacey
English star of Ringling Bros.
"Think of a society that brought animals from all over the world to people who never knew they existed and further worked with institutions that to this day work to conserve these species.  Think of a society that through exposing people to said animals brought awareness of said animals' plight in the wild. 

Billy Smart and Yasmine Smart
meet Princess Margaret
“Think of a culture that entertained audiences of all classes and creeds. Think of a culture that takes the form of a global family accepting leaders as equals of any sex, race, religion, philosophical position, sexual orientation or moderate political persuasion. Think of an institution that boosted the economy, never asked for government support or public funding, that worked off their own steam and integrated themselves into every community they visited, often providing job opportunities. 

“Think of a society that built buildings over a century ago that still stand today and brought elements that are part of the very fabric of modern entertainment. 

Daily Mail
"Then imagine if that culture is shunned by the country that invented it and suffers fashionable prejudice. Imagine if said society's very name prompts disdain to such a degree that it has become accepted as noun for general lowliness. These are my people. This is the circus community."

- Jamie Clubb
Author of The Legend of Salt and Sauce - The Amazing Story of Britain’s Most Famous Elephants

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Politics and the circus

Political circus is a common expression, but from public funding of the arts to legislation on circus animals, the changing tides of politics do blow like gales against the walls of the big top.

In this article on Blasting News, I offer my analysis of how last year's votes for Donald Trump and Brexit will affect the issue of animals in the big top. Click here to read it.

And click here for the latest news on changing attitudes to circus animals in Wales.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Threat of Welsh circus ban recedes

A Chipperfield tiger

There's good news for the future of circuses with animals as a statement from the Welsh government seems to suggest that a proposed ban on wild animals in the big top will now be replaced with a licensing scheme similar to the one currently in force in England.

Circus operators and fans feared the worst in 2015 when the Welsh Assembly's deputy minister for farms and food promised a ban on "ethical" grounds, stating, "The Welsh Government believes there is no place for wild animals in circuses."

Those fears seemed confirmed when Professor Stephen Harris, a long term opponent of circus animals was appointed to carry out a study of the sector and predictably delivered a report supporting a ban.

According to a new statement by Lesley Griffths, Cabinet Secretary for Environmental and Rural Affairs, however, the Assembly has decided to step back from a ban and impose a licensing scheme instead.

Griffiths states, in part:

My officials will be working on developing a new scheme such as licensing or registration, for ‘Mobile Animal Exhibits’ including circuses, which display domestic and exotic animals in Wales. We will work with key stakeholders and undertake a public consultation on this early next year
I also recently met with the UK Government’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, to discuss ‘Mobile Animal Exhibits’, wild animals in circuses and the revocation of the outdated Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925 in Wales. ‘Mobile Animal Exhibits’ from across the UK regularly travel across borders. Therefore agreement was obtained that Wales and England would, as far as possible, have a joined-up strategic approach in introducing any new scheme to ensure cross border issues are kept to a minimum.  

As always, however, the threat of a ban has not gone away completely, with Griffiths adding the following caveats:

It should be carefully noted that whilst circuses with animals will be included in the proposed licensing or registration scheme, I am aware of the ethical concerns held by members of the public regarding the use of wild animals in circuses and a specific question on this issue will be included in the consultation document.    
I have not dismissed the possibility of a future ban on the use of wild animals in circuses in Wales and have kept the window open on the possibility of still being included in any UK Government Bill brought forward on this issue. 

For more on the hundred-year history of attempts to ban circus animals from British big tops, click here.

Update January 2017: Does the changing situation in Wales reflect changing attitudes in a post-Trump, post-Brexit world? Click here for more on the political circus.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Ringling rings its first Ringmistress in 146 years

Kristen Michelle Wilson

Well, America has yet to elect its first woman to the White House, but there's a new First Lady of the circus as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus - the Greatest Show on Earth - has appointed its first female ringmaster in its 146-year history.

Announcing her appointment on ABC News, Kristen Michelle Wilson told America:

"Ever since I was a child, I have loved performing and entertaining, so, to join the 'greatest show on earth' is truly just the biggest thrill of my life. It's a bucket list-level opportunity I never even imagined.
"I definitely have a larger-than-life personality and I'm really excited about it because that's really one of the best things about being a ringmaster: You get to be yourself, but you get to be the grandest version of yourself. I get to guide audiences on this incredible journey around the world with the Circus XTREME so it is really such an excitement."

Yasmin Smart
Of course ringmistresses are nothing new in the UK, where a long line of women have been cracking the whip in the big top for years, among them Petra Jackson, who is currently keeping order on Circus Mondao, Nell Gifford who went on to open her own circus, and the renowned equestrian Yasmine Smart.

Click here to read the story of Smart's childhood in Britain's most famous circus family.

Click here to read Nell Gifford's story.

Petra Jackson
and friends
And click here for more on Petra Jackson and Circus Mondao.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Educational value of Circuses, Zoos and SeaWorld

Douglas McPherson
author Circus Mania

The dumbest argument against animals in circuses, zoos and aquariums such as SeaWorld - and it's one I see parroted with irritating regularity in articles and comments threads - is that they provide "no educational value."

If only the people who blindly spout that view could be persuaded to actually visit such an establishment before condemning it, I am sure that most would find that the biggest educational benefit lies in simply seeing and sometimes touching wild animals close-up. TV doesn't have nearly the same impact, only a tiny percentage will ever go on a safari, and even those who do will probably not get quite so close to the animals as they can in a circus, zoo or aquarium. 

Society is becoming far too removed from the animal world. Kids in cities often won't even see horses or the farm animals they eat. Many couldn't tell you which animal some of the processed food on their plate came from. 

Circuses, zoos and aquariums reconnect us with the natural world, and that is life enhancing in the same way that pat dogs in hospitals are. It also creates an appreciation and respect for nature. It was largely the tricks performed by dolphins in aquariums, for example, that made people realise how clever they were and therefore worthy of conservation in the wild. 

As for the animals, as long as they are properly cared for, they're better off in human care where they are protected from all the natural threats (as well as the human kind) that they would face in the wild. Being animals, they don't have a human's mental capacity to conceptualise freedom or captivity, they only know if they are happy, mentally stimulated and physically well, and human care can provide that, in exactly the same way domestic pet ownership does. 

I used to believe entertainment-based animal shows were a bit iffy - largely because that was the view presented in the media - but the more I've looked into it, during the research for my book Circus Mania and many newspaper and magazine articles since, the more I've seen that the arguments against such establishments aren't based on genuine welfare claims (although they always campaign on grounds of alleged cruelty) but an ideological objection to captivity irrespective of welfare standards

Every circus animal I have seen in the ring or backstage has appeared to be in exceptionally good health, mentally and physically, and their keepers and trainers have been 100% dedicated to them. 

In my opinion, we need more businesses that put the public in close proximity with animals, not fewer.