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."

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Miley Cyrus' sister Noah Cyrus fights Ringling Brothers Circus - but is it just propaganda?

"Don't visit the circus," says Miley Cyrus' little sister
Noah Cyrus.

Poor old Bily Ray Cyrus. As if the country singer fondly remembered for Achy Breaky Heart didn't have enough on his plate with daughter Miley Cyrus stealing the media spotlight, he has another precocious offspring squeezing him out of any limelight that might be left. Miley's little sister, 13-year-old Noah Cyrus has made a Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) video protesting against the treatment of circus elephants. In the video, which is targeted at school children and uses emotive cartoons of tearful baby elephants, Cyrus compares their trainers with playground bullies. She's also spearheading a campaign asking Nashville schools to boycott class visits to Ringling Brothers when the circus visits Music City, Tennessee.

Never mind the jumbos, I say, how about a campaign to revive Billy Ray Cyrus’ career?

But there’s a serious issue here. Peta are using extremely emotive images to indoctrinate children too young to question what they are seeing. And is the message true, or just propaganda?

A Chipperfield tiger
There’s no doubt that some circus trainers have and do use pain to train animals. But there is also plenty of evidence that others train with reward and patience and have relationships with their animals built on mutual trust and affection. Click here to see how lion trainer Thomas Chipperfield works.

Every pet owner knows their animal can be trained to perform simple tasks such as sitting, staying and fetching with no cruelty involved. Horses have to be trained to be ridden. Guide dogs for the blind, sheep dogs and police dogs are all trained to a sophisticated level, yet no one accuses their trainers of cruelty. So why should circuses trainers be singled out?

They may work with more exotic creatures, but the whole purpose of circus is to present something out of the ordinary. A trained tiger is more exciting to see than a trained dog, but does that mean its training methods should be regarded as more suspect, or that a big cat should find working with humans more objectionable than a canine?

Training with patience and kindness
a scene from Thomas Chipperfield's
lion training video diary.
Watch it on YouTube.
Many animals from chimps to dolphins seem to enjoy interacting with humans, and let’s not forget that circus staple the elephant has long been domesticated and used, in its native region, in the same way as horses and oxen in other countries.

In my experience, children attending circuses with animals have been universally enthralled by the opportunity to see exotic animals paraded in such close proximity - and in our increasingly sanitised world where everything is experienced through a screen, that’s a rare and valuable opportunity to learn something about the relationship between humans and the natural world.

So, while Noah Cyrus is asking schools to boycott Ringling, I’d say this to teachers and parents: take your children to the circus, but do more than that. For a truly educational experience, organise a backstage visit to see the animals and invite a trainer to give a talk to the class.

Encourage your children to ask questions and form their own judgement based on what they see for themselves rather than to blindly believe everything they are told.

CIRCUS MANIA - A Personal Journey

I was brought up to believe that the idea of performing animals was wrong. It was the skill of human performers and the dangers they risked they drew me to the world of circus, but while all-human shows such as Cirque du Soleil may represent the future of the art form, I quickly realised that I would have to attend a traditional circus with tigers and elephants in order to catch a glimpse of its history, because it was with the horsemanship of Philip Astley nearly 250 years ago that the circus began.

I went with mixed feelings over the animal issue, and so my journey through the backstage world of the circus also became a personal journey through the rights, wrongs, truths and fictions of animals in the sawdust circle.

Share my journey through this complex subject in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus.  Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

"Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form."
- The Mail on Sunday

"The greatest show on Earth... in a book!"
- World's Fair

A circus tiger
- who knows what he's
really thinking?
Oh, and for more information on the ethics of Peta, visit Astley's Legacy, a blog dedicated to countering anti-circus propaganda and presenting the truth about circus animals and animal rights organisations.

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