"Ladies and gentlemen... boys and girls... children of all ages...." There is no phrase in the English language filled with more genuine enthusiasm, anticipation and excitement... and that includes both the other phrases: "all you can eat" and "c'mon, it's your birthday, I'll do that thing you like."
I have probably been to the Ringing Brothers circus near 25 times in my life.
It is without shame or embarrassment that I say "I love the circus." I love everything about the circus. I love the spectacle. I love the patriotism. I love how it's a symphony for the eyes. I love how it's a melting pot of performers from around the world. I love how its populated with people who do amazing things. In fact, the circus has everything I love all under one roof and every year, I get to bathe in its magic and wonder for a good two consecutive hours. I love explosions. The circus has plenty of pyrotechnics. I love popcorn. The circus sells Costco sized buckets. I love to see skilled performers do things that can kill them. The circus presents high wire acts, acrobats, trapeze artists, people doing handstands on the back of a horse at full gallop. I love to see elephants, lions and tigers. The circus has a barnyard full of them, too! And a few of the animals even wave! And one of them paints (the elephant). I love to laugh. The circus has clowns. Rather than study for the physics regents exam in 10th grade, I taught myself to juggle. I got a 63 on the regents -- which is a failing grade. On the other hand, I still juggle today. I can juggle balls, pins, axes, and even flaming torches... while riding a unicycle. Suck it, physics!
Anyway, on Tuesday July 15th I took my 9 year old daughter to see the Ringling Brothers circus at the Staple's Center in Los Angeles. It was a fantastic experience. We laughed at clowns. We marveled at the acrobats. We held our breath as 7 people on motorcycles rode 60 miles an hour inside a steel globe. We devoured a Costco sized tub of popcorn. And best of all? I stood 6 feet from an elephant. And not just one elephant. But five of them. I also was about 20 feet from nearly a dozen lions and tigers. Not to mention two kangaroos, a dozen horses, a dozen dogs, a few pigs, goats, llamas and even a wooly-mammoth -- actually, an elephant in a wooly mammoth costume. It wasn't funny ha-ha, but it made me smile none-the-less.
Although nothing could ruin my experience... or dampen the pure, unmitigated joy of sitting side by side with my 9 year old daughter at the circus... animal rights activists sure tried their best. (You can read about their recent "victory" to keep the circus out of LA, here.)
On the way into the arena, protestors stood a few feet from the entrance gate chanting and holding signs to protest the circus' treatment of animals. The demonstrators I saw this year were slightly better behaved than the protestors I saw last year, one of whom ran up to my daughter, who was eight years old at the time, and shouted in her face -- from a distance of not more than 12 inches -- that the circus was cruel to animals and that she should be ashamed for supporting such barbarism.
I got right in the guy's face -- held back by the security guards who were protecting my right to see the Circus -- and in no uncertain terms explained that my daughter was eight... that he was a grown man and that regardless of his agenda, he should be ashamed of himself. He backed down and sheepishly recognized his error in judgement.
Anyway, the Ringling Brothers circus was at the Staples center for about 10 days. Animal rights activists were at every performance. Although, on July 10, they held a very big rally. Of the demonstration, one protestor in particular wrote on her Facebook page, "I hate the circus protests. The pro-circus people are about the most stupid, self-centered, cruelest white trash on earth."
You see, that's the problem in a nutshell. Animal rights activists have become increasingly sanctimonious, increasingly didactic and are increasingly becoming cruel, vicious, and dangerous.
These children participated in an animal rights demonstration on July 15th, 2014
And, as I have written about before, animal activists are indoctrinating children into their cause. I ask, is it child abuse to have 7 or 8 year olds - who very clearly can not understand both the content of their demonstration or its future ramifications -- carry placards and hand out literature that proclaim animal cruelty? As you can see from the photos I took at a demonstration on the campus of UCLA, children were utilized in that protest, just as they were outside the Staples Center to protest the circus.
Signs held by animal rights activists outside the circus included: "Elephants are Abused," "Elephants Were Not Put on Earth for Human Entertainment," "Elephants Suffer." Animal rights advocates would argue that the elephant has been taken from his home... and forced to perform at the circus. That the elephant has no choice in the matter. That its human's responsibility to refrain from taking advantage of those unable to protect themselves.
Go back and read the above paragraph one more time. Only this time, where ever you see the word "elephant" replace it with the word "child."
Did you do it? Seriously. Go back and think about it. Are what the animal rights protestors doing to their children any different from what they allege the circus does to animals?
Before I go on, I should add that there has been a history of allegations -- many unproven -- of elephant abuse at Ringling Brothers circus. In 2012 a court ordered the ASPCA to pay Ringling Brothers 9.3 million dollars for alleging abuse -- that occurred in 2002 -- that was unproven. Although, a Mother Jones article in 2011 made new allegations. To their credit, Ringling Brothers has established an elephant breeding, research and conservation facility in south Florida.
For a moment, lets consider the idea that being in the circus would not be an elephant's first choice... were it able to make decisions. Backstage, the elephant must be restrained in some manner, to prevent it, I guess, from running off. As the circus moves from city to city, the elephant has to travel as well, by train I presume. During the circus, the elephant is trotted out and encouraged to walk around the ring, have a pretty girl in a sequin dress sit on its back, and for some reason twirl around on a cylindrical pedestal. I say "encouraged," because you can't force an elephant to do anything. For the other animals, the lions, tigers, kangaroos, dogs, pigs, goats, etc the routine is pretty similar.
Now, lets think about the animals life in the wild. At any minute, another animal, a stronger animal, one higher on the food chain, could pop out of the brush and kill them.
At least at the circus, death by predator is pretty unlikely.
I'm not being flip. OK, well, a little. But, my point is that while the animal's circus life may not be ideal... I'm prepared to see a few animals in the circus or the zoo, for that matter... if it means that millions upon millions of people around the world get to marvel at an elephant from 6 or 8 feet away, or to see lions and tigers from just 20 feet away. Or see a live kangaroo -- as I did on Tuesday. The vast preponderance of the human population will never get an opportunity to see these magnificent creatures in their native surroundings and much can be learned and gained from seeing them up close.
Oh, one more thing: If you think about it, how different is the circus having elephants... from people owning a dog? Or a cat? If you own a dog, you keep it inside your house or yard. When you go out, you put the dog on a leash. When you teach it to roll over or "high-5" isn't that just a trick you ask the dog to perform?
Jon Hotchkiss is the creator of the new science series, This vs That. He invites you to see the 1-hour series premiere, FREE, by clicking here.