Cruelty to wild animals is tradition that must end
To the editor:
While denying the abusive training tactics used by circuses, Dan McGinnis, in his July 18 letter "Circus animal ban is misguided, unnecessary," rationalizes these exploitative endeavors by claiming that their long history gives them inherent value. Not all traditions are worth preserving, and this is one that deserves to be left in the past.
These are wild animals with natural instincts, and on that biological basis alone they deserve freedom and autonomy. Unlike human entertainers, animals do not choose the circus life; they are forced to take part in a degrading spectacle and are deprived of everything that is important to them. They are kept in small cages, denied the opportunity to express their physical and social needs, and forced to spend endless hours in transit inside of trailers and train cars.
Their training often involves punishing methods, and their handlers may beat, restrain and sedate them. Animals kept in such conditions frequently display abnormal behaviors such as rocking, swaying, pacing, and self-mutilation. This "zoochosis," as it is called, indicates extreme mental distress stemming from severe deprivation.
The inhumane conditions that wild and exotic animals are subject to in traveling shows are compounded by the threat their presence poses to public safety. Born Free USA's Exotic Animal Incidents Database details many instances of attacks and injuries to both humans and animals.
For instance, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., an elephant in the Hanneford Circus escaped from the ring and charged toward the crowd, resulting in injuries to three people. A chimpanzee with the Hadi Shrine Circus in Evansville, Ind., bit a circus guest during a pre-show picture event.
Two baby zebras jumped the fence of a traveling circus while in Brownsville, Texas, kicking and injuring a police officer and an onlooker. Tory and Mary, two elephants performing with the Shrine Circus in Menomonie, Wis., bolted out of the circus tent during the show, scattering crowds and injuring a child. These are just a few of many tragic incidents, and clearly illustrate that exposing the public to wild animals is never safe.
Let us neither underestimate the power and intelligence of these animals, nor ignore their innate needs. "Tradition" is not an excuse for cruelty. We must respect the right of wild animals to live wild and free — as nature intended. I hope that the Pittsfield City Council will vote in favor of this humane legislation.
Kate Dylewsky, Washington, D.C.