Not all circuses resort to cruel practices, but by and large, there are few that consider circus animal rights. The evidence of abuse can be seen in incidents where circus animals went on rampages after years of abuse, attacked the public, and tried to injure themselves to escape a life of misery. Animal rights organizations have undercover video and first-hand accounts of circus animal controversies where animals were kicked, punched, restrained, and emotionally abused in order to illicit a performance, or sometimes for no reason whatsoever.
The Humane Society’s message about the use of circus animals is clear. “With so many better choices in entertainment, there's no need to use wild animals. If you see a captive animal being treated cruelly, speak up. You can also support stronger laws to protect wild animals. And use your pocketbook to advocate for alternatives such as animatronics in films and animal-free circuses.”
Every major animal circus has been cited for violating “minimal standards of care” established by the United States Animal Welfare Act, overseen by the USDA. Even though PETA, the Humane Society, and other animal rights organizations report abuse of circus animals, very few violators are prosecuted. They usually only pay fines.There is some hope, though. Many communities have signed petitions banning circuses that use abuse to train animals.
During the off-season, animals are often kept in confinement in small cages or traveling crates, leading to psychological issues and often physical ailments. A common side effect of perpetual confinement is swaying and pacing.According to PAWS, “virtually 96% of their lives are spent in chains or cages.” Around 11 months a year, animals travel across the country in box cars with no climate control; eating, sleeping, and defecating in the same cage. Some spend as many as 26 hours straight in their travel crates during a show and as long as 60 to 100 hours at a time when the circus travels.