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Three rings and a whole lot of denial

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
January 2, 2002


"The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny." — Jeremy Bentham

Ever since Ricki Lee Jones released "The Magazine" I have toyed with the idea of how one would go about "getting even with the Circus," as her way seemed counterproductive, if not cowardly. I mean how does one seek justice for a century or more of incarceration and exploitive enslavement? Where does one even start?

I have been to the circus twice in my life, both times while still in grade school. Suffice it to say that I was fundamentally unimpressed. Being a hyperactive child my mind raced as fast as the rest of me, instead of staring in awe of a woman on the back of an elephant or the creepiness of the clowns, I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Things may have changed, but the circuses I remember stink of animal crap and buttered popcorn.

Usually this column is reserved for environmental issues and the mixed blessing we call government. Other times it is used as a forum to acknowledge those advocating progressive policy that goes way beyond anthropocentric comfort levels. It has been a while since someone has turned my attention towards the suffering of circus animals. Focused on wildness and native habitat, it's easy to forget that many animals are trapped inside the artificial world of entertainment.

I admit my experience with the big top is limited, but the one clear memory is that circuses are dark places were human and animal oddities ran around in circles for the amusement of others. Although dressed in tights and feathers, bangles and bells an overall sense of sadness was just beneath the surface. Did I mention clowns are creepy?

As radical as this may seem, I will say it anyway. Elephants belong in the wild, not doing stupid human tricks. If there is no wild, then, instead of paying to see them spin in circles, we should spend money making sure they can live free. Tigers jumping through rings of fire? Old hat. The trick I would like to seeis Tigers avoiding the cold ring of extinction. Perhaps the real trick is the one that involves humans recognizing that elephants and tigers, lions and llamas didn't evolve for the singular purpose of human diversion. Let's face it folks, circus animals never have a nice day. I'm sure while most are adequately treated, in other words not actively abused, these animals would rather not perform. And although these "performers" were probably born in captivity, they are still sentient beings, and are deserving of a dignified existence. It humans want to perform for each other, great. Cirque du Soleil is an acrobatic circus where the most exotic things are the extremely tight costumes, and the performers are there out of choice, not incarceration.

Here along California's southern coast we pride ourselves on our environmental awareness, and an ever increasing sense of understanding. So why is it that we continue to deny performing animals the freedoms we so highly prize? Could it be that we have simply forgotten to care about other species while obsessing on our own. Then again, why wouldn't a species that goes out of it's way to exploit it's own kind, not exploit others species out of a sense of privilege?

This is changing. Currently there is an effort to have municipalities nationwide adopt ordinances banning the display of wild and exotic animals for entertainment purposes. Endorsed by the Jane Goodall Institute, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Cities across the country are making it quite clear they will no longer turn a blind eye to the inherent cruelty associated with animals and circus performance.

Here in California, the cities of Corona, New Port Beach, and Pasadena have already enacted ordinances banning the use of exotic animals for display, and Marin County regulates all animal acts. Oregon,Washington, and British Columbia also have numerous ordinances aimed at preventing animal exploitation. Now, before anyone writes this off as some west coast whim. Cities in Indiana, Colorado, Tennessee, and Massachusetts have also refused to allow entertainment based in animal suffering.

By the time you read this, the Encinitas City Council may have joined other municipal leaders in banning the exploitive use of exotic animals. This is possible because residents are asking their elected officials to do exactly that,out of both compassion and an overriding sense of justice. I think they are up to it, hopefully they do as well.

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