I like happy stories anytime of the year, but particularly during holiday times. And so I rejoiced along with the elephants upon learning of TEAPA, the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, that was introduced in Congress in November. We are not the first country to consider it. In fact, we are at the end of a long list after Bolivia, Austria, India, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal and Slovakia that already have passed measures that ban wild animals in circus acts.I share Jay Kirk's feelings, "If you're like me, you find the spectacle of animals at a circus not only disturbing but weirdly embarrassing. It has to do with knowing that the only reason these animals have suffered is in order to learn, let's admit it, a fairly lame set of tricks, especially when we are truly eager to see the acrobats and trapeze artists. The paid entertainers." Jay Kirk is the author of the just-published "Kingdom Under Glass: a Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals."
The documentation of what amounts to torture for these animals is sickening. The massive elephants, who can walk 15 miles a day in their natural habitat, are confined in overheated trucks for long periods of time over what can be 50 weeks of the year going from circus location to circus location. The ways they are "trained" to do stupid tricks involve other tools of torture -- bullhooks, whips, metal pipes, and kicks. The spirits of these majestic animals are broken to make them more compliant.
This bill will not ban circuses, but is being fought by spokespeople for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus on the basis of taking away jobs provided by the 141-year old family business. However, Kirk points out that circus animal trainers often hold a variety of jobs within a circus and will still be needed. And, the circus did survive phasing out the cruel freak shows. Besides, what about all those other countries ahead of the U.S. who have banned it?
I learned about TEAPA at the same time as I read that elephant rides at our local zoo have been stopped. The reality of an elephant going on a rampage loaded with children was all too scary and possible. Personally, I believe it's better for the children to see the giant elephants as intelligent animals that should be respected rather than as a huge toy to play with.
I lost my admiration for Walt Disney many years ago when I had neighbors who had worked for Disney. They told me of the horrible ways that live animals (before computer characters were possible) were forced to do what a script required. Some even met untimely ugly deaths if they didn't comply. Years later, when I was at a zoo in Israel, I remember watching a camel cry -- at least that is what it looked and felt like to me. In China, I watched in horror as bears dressed in frilly clothes stood on their hind legs with a large chain around their neck as people snapped photos. A lion was paraded on a float as a supposedly dangerous animal, but it was easy to see the animal was paralyzed and close to death.
I was never a big fan of the circus, and I particularly hated zoos after I went on a safari in Kenya where we had to search for the animals in their natural environment. TEAPA won't change all the cruelty to animals, but it's a worthwhile start. Hooray!
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