Thanks to our friends at Ánima for providing this document in Spanish on their web site.
Polls show most of the British public opposing animal circuses, and today, fewer than 50 undomesticated animals are owned by four British circuses, including seven tigers, five lions, eight camels, several zebras and an elephant called Anne. Only the Great British Circus still uses lions and tigers. The owner insists they enjoy a good life, despite their cramped quarters.
“Circus animals have a very mentally and physically stimulating day, rather like police dogs and police horses who at the end of the day go back to their stable or kennel because that's all they require,” says lion trainer Martin Lacey.1
The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 was expected to pave the way for a ban on non-domesticated animals in circuses by 2008 — if scientific evidence would prove animals in circuses were suffering. But a group of experts, including six eminent vets, concluded there's no proof that circus animals suffer more than other captive animals. They took captivity itself for granted as acceptable, although captivity is what’s fundamentally wrong with the way we treat circus animals — and the other animals, too.
Some campaigners hope to see circuses subjected to the Zoo Licensing Act, because many British circuses will fall short of zoo standards and go out of business. But such a strategy suggests that zoos provide an acceptable quality of life to animals who should have been allowed to stay in their habitats to experience freedom. Underscoring the wrong done by zoos is the recent death of a young Siberian tiger known as Tatiana, who broke out of confinement in California’s San Francisco Zoo, killed a person, and was shot.
The zoo's director of animal care and conservation, Robert Jenkins, could not explain the 300-pound cat’s escape, for the enclosure involves a 15-foot-wide moat and 12-foot-high walls.2 But near closing time, just outside the enclosure, the tiger caught and killed one person. A zoo employee dialed 911. When a group of four police officers arrived, the cat was reportedly attacking another person about 300 yards away, in front of the Terrace Café. Several police officers shot the cat with handguns.
The media paused for a moment, as though in shock; then came the stories about how unusual the attack was: The dead zoo customer, and two others who were attacked in the same incident, must have been drunk. An unidentified source said they carried slingshots. The fence was lower than the standard height. The zoo management had previous problems. And so forth — essentially painting the picture that the tragedy belonged to this zoo, not all zoos.
Advocates walked into the same trap. A San Francisco media outlet quoted Elliot Katz, who presides over California-based In Defense of Animals, as saying this particular zoo has a history of provoking the cats and inducing them to growl for audiences in “public feeding spectacles.”3
Sounding like a PR advisor to zoos, Katz said the public feeding should end, and told the paper zoos must adopt the mindset of a haven or sanctuary that places the quality of life of animals above public entertainment and exploitation.
In the same article, Fred Rabidoux, a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco, was far clearer.
“Why are we subjecting these animals to such unnatural conditions?” asked Rabidoux. “The right thing to do is to respect the right of each animal to live its life in surroundings that nature put it in.”
And in one of the most powerful demonstrations we’ve seen, performer Patti Smith, in a New Year’s concert the close of 2007 in New York City, called the zoo a prison and the described the tiger’s death as the spilling of God’s blood.
Siberian tigers are classified as endangered. Tatiana was shipped to San Francisco from the Denver Zoo a few years ago, with zoo officials planning to get her to mate.4 A year ago Tatiana had seized and bitten the arm of a keeper. Clearly, Tatiana’s own plans differed from those who claimed power over this individual. This was one of the world’s free souls. For that, they killed her.
Is there really a justification for zoos? It is fashionable today for zoos to claim they preserve animals — treating animals rather like living museum specimens. Some zoo professionals do care about protecting real habitats; but it seems many think zoos offer a suitable substitute for the areas where animals would be naturally born. Animals are individuals, and although preservation of their communities is important, what good is that if they and their mates, whom they do not choose, and their offspring, who are imposed upon them, can only live behind massive, chain-linked and electrified fences?
We ourselves may well be headed for extinction, because so many animals with whom our physical lives are intertwined are disappearing from nature. If the trend carries on at the current rate, more than half of all plant and animal species are expected to be gone by 2100. This unremitting spate of extinctions — even more than escalated climate change — is the most certain threat to human life on Earth.5
What if we found out we’d face extinction, and some of us were urged by a species of people from another planet to be whisked off of Earth to be conserved? What if you were offered this chance? There would be no Earth’s nature for you, ever again. To be conserved you’d be brought to another planet, kept behind a fence, fed and occasionally moved between sites to be bred. Would you agree?
A Washington, D.C. law school’s branch of the Animal Legal Defense Fund recently brought speakers from the Humane Society of the U.S. to discuss the environmental impacts of meat. Although the HSUS speakers discussed litigation to address greenhouse gas emissions, they ignored the obvious answer: simply opting out of animal agribusiness. A law student reported that the HSUS advocated organic meat, “extolling its virtues of being less harmful to the environment and containing more nutrients.”6 The HSUS PowerPoint presentation even offered websites to help the audience buy meat.
The school’s Animal Legal Defense Fund group “invited speakers from the Humane Society because it assumed they'd discuss the harmful effects of eating meat, not the benefits of eating meat,” stated the disappointed student. It’s good to see law students rightly critical of such presentations, but the content of the HSUS talk would come as no surprise to regular readers of this column. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has long worked in tandem with the HSUS to promote purportedly superior animal products.7
The HSUS presentation also mentioned technology to curb pollution from large meat companies — which costs big money. The speakers admitted that much flesh production is moving to Brazil, but then suggested subsidies for Brazilian beef companies so they can buy the technology.
Remember Audre Lorde’s saying about trying to dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools?8 The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has submitted a shareholder resolution with Supervalu, claiming the grocery chain's current chicken suppliers use “cruel and inefficient” electrical stunning, when they ought to gas the animals instead.9 PETA’s recommended killing method, reportedly used by some European suppliers, slowly replaces the oxygen that birds breathe with inert gas.
PETA holds stock in numerous animal agribusiness corporations. If these companies are the masters, then attempting to help run them from a shareholder’s position is using the master’s tools. On the surface they might seem to beat the masters at their game, but this will not create genuine change.
Instead, why not replace the masters? Why not invest in companies and restaurants that are committing to changing society by offering truly peaceful foods?
One cannot replace the masters and simultaneously invest in them and tinker with their tools — which reinforces the social agreement that the systematic oppression of birds and other animals is normal. In the words of Vegan Society founder Donald Watson, “The only way this problem can be eased is by veganism becoming more and more acceptable in guest houses, hotels, wherever one goes, until one hopes one day it will become the norm.”
Europe ’s egg industry, involving more than 300 million laying hens, is going through a period of change as the European Commission prepares to phase out regular battery cages by 2012.10 After that, cages will still exist, but the space allowance per bird will be about double that of the cages used by most U.S. companies.
When the transition to either modified cage or shed storage is completed in 2012, industry costs will increase substantially more than the European Commission first estimated. By then, even after paying duties, U.S. and other producers could ship in and sell cheaper eggs.
It’s unlikely the U.S. producers will be pressed to change their systems. Most voluntarily subscribe to the United Egg Producers Certified scheme. Mark Oldenkamp, and egg company VP who chairs UEP’s Producer Animal Welfare Committee, says the voluntary certification scheme “really took shape in the late ’90s when we said we needed to do something to not have the type of regulatory activity that occurred in Europe happen here in the United States.”11 And UEP’s lead has been followed by most of the world beyond Europe. So will all European producers really be expected to modify their operations?
Switzerland phased out battery cages by 1992, and sustains egg production in part by support payments, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the Eurogroup for Animal Welfare, “to produce an apparently satisfactory outcome.” These groups sound easily satisfied. Seventy percent of Switzerland’s two million laying hens are packed in crowded industrial sheds.
“Action is needed to ensure that producers are not put at a disadvantage in the market place when they adopt higher-welfare, higher-cost systems,” state the RSPCA and Eurogroup. These groups have suggested that the World Trade Organization allow national and commission funding for Europe’s egg producers, preferential trade rules for “high-welfare eggs,” and reductions in animal feed costs.
North American activists, take note. One can either teach eggless cooking (a most enjoyable undertaking), or one can promote “cage-free” eggs or modified cages — and wind up in the position of making sure they sell. Which one is animal advocacy? The answer is obvious.
- 1. Gillian Hargreaves, “What's the Future for Circus Animals?” – BBC News (7 Dec. 2007).
- 2. Jordan Robertson, “Zoo a Crime Scene After Tiger Attack” – Associated Press (26 Dec. 2007).
- 3. John Han, “ Animal Rights Group Calls for Change in Zoo Policy” – Fog City Journal (4 Jan. 2008).
- 4. “Zoo a Crime Scene After Tiger Attack” (note 2 above).
- 5. See Julia Whitty, “ Gone: Mass Extinction and the Hazards of Earth's Vanishing Biodiversity” – Mother Jones (Jun. 2007).
- 6. Jennifer Dillard, “HSUS Says: Eat Happy, Clean Meat” – AnimalBlawg (entry updated 29 Nov. 2007); available: http://www.animalblawg.com/wordpress/?p=199
- 7. For example, the ALDF website has a section geared to Student Animal Legal Defense Fund branches titled “SALDF Project Ideas: Cage-Free Campaign.” It reads: “The Humane Society of the United States' Cage-Free Campus campaign helps students work with their schools' dining services to discontinue their use of eggs from hens confined in battery cages.” For more information about this campaign, the reader is sent to the HSUS website. The Student Animal Legal Defense Fund branches at Harvard, the University of Miami, and other law schools have accordingly promoted the HSUS’s egg campaign to popularize so- called cage-free eggs.
- 8. In the original speech, Lorde said “[t]hose of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women” should not be ignored as that would automatically undermine the feminist mainstream’s call for change. I acknowledge that any use of Lorde’s famous phrase in other circumstances cannot accurately represent the rich context in which it first appeared.
- 9. Frederic J. Frommer, “PETA Urges Supervalu to Buy More Humanely Slaughtered Poultry” -Associated Press (20 Dec. 2007).
- 10. Eurogroup for Animal Welfare and Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, “ Hardboiled Reality: Animal Welfare-Friendly Egg Production in a Global Market” (Sep. 2001).
- 11. “ Livestock Producers Take Proactive Approach to Animal Welfare” – Farmscape ( Canada), Article 2373 (20 Jan. 2007).