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."

Monday, 2 June 2014

The scientific study of circus animals the RSPCA didn't want you to read

The book the RSPCA
didn't want you to read

With the Queen's Speech to Parliament on Wednesday likely to announce that the proposed ban on wild animals in British circuses will be debated in the coming session, I've been looking into the history of opposition to performing animals.

Did you know that the first calls to ban animals in entertainment were made by the Performing Animals Defence League exactly 100 years ago in 1914? (For the complete history, including timeline, click here)

It was also interesting to come across a landmark study of animals in the circus by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington in the late 80s.

The 18-month study was sponsored by the RSPCA, but the Society refused to publish the results because it couldn't reconcile some of the doctor's observations with her conclusion that circuses did not by nature cause distress to their animals.

Kiley-Worthington subsequently published her report in the book Animals In Circus & Zoos - Chiron's World? (Aardvark Publishing). In Greek mythology, Chiron was half man, half horse, and symbolises the relationship between humans and animals.

The book is out of print, but you can read the full text by clicking here. I'd urge MPs about to vote on the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill to read it before they make up their minds.

Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington
Click here for her thoughts on circus animals
Kiley-Worthington, a leading ethologist, or animal behaviour specialist, has some criticisms, particularly in regard to the confinement of certain animals and the conditions at winter quarters. But she makes some simple suggestions for improvements and states than circus owners readily took up some of her ideas. Since the study was undertaken 25 years ago, we can hopefully assume that things have improved further since then.

She also observes that training is no more harsh than in other training situations such as riding stables. The animals she studied in around 30,000 hours of observations, showed no signs of fear or reluctance to perform. In fact, she reports that some primates appeared to enjoy the audience's appreciation and repeated tricks or added their own stunts in response to applause.

While farm animals show great distress during transportation, Kiley-Worthington reports that circus animals quickly acclimatise to being transported. They enter the lorries without reluctance and show no signs of distress at the end of their journeys.

The doctor concludes that circuses can have a beneficial role to play in conservation, education and the scientific understanding of animals, and that the money spent trying to ban circuses would be better spent improving them.

A quarter of a century on, that's surely a strong case for rejecting a ban and continuing with the Circus Licensing Scheme which has regulated wild animals in big tops for the past 18 months.

Read my personal journey through the emotive subject of animals in the circus in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus. Click here to buy from Amazon.

To read the full 100-year history of opposition to animals in entertainment, click here.

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