25th October 2018
Second read speech – Exhibited Animals Protection Amendment (Prohibitions On Exhibition) Bill 2018.
The “Circus Bill” would ban the use of exotic animals in circuses and retire them to sanctuaries where they can live out their days in peace. Mark Pearson’s speech references the appalling history of animals being used in circuses. “Tradition” is no defence for continuing the practice of forcing animals to perform for human entertainment.
EXHIBITED ANIMALS PROTECTION AMENDMENT (PROHIBITIONS ON EXHIBITION) BILL 2018
Bill introduced, and read a first time and ordered to be printed on motion by the Hon. Mark Pearson.
Second Reading Speech
The Hon. MARK PEARSON (11:04): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Exhibited Animals Protection Amendment (Prohibitions on Exhibition) Bill 2018 prohibits circuses from exhibiting exotic animals. Exotic animals are defined as “any animal other than a stock animal within the meaning of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979, or a companion animal within the meaning of the Companion Animals Act”. This bill makes it an offence for a person to exhibit an exotic animal at a circus, and to breed, keep, train or transport an exotic animal for the purpose of exhibiting the animal at a circus, whether or not the circus is located in New South Wales. Exotic animals currently exhibited at circuses must be rehomed in an animal display establishment or wildlife sanctuary approved by the secretary within 12 months. If such a placement is not reasonably practicable, the owner must keep the exotic animal in accordance with standards currently prescribed under the principal Act.
Established science tells us that the welfare and wellbeing of exotic animals is severely compromised by being held captive in travelling circuses. The circus business model is predicated on forcing animals to live in barren, cramped conditions, including stressful travel in trucks known as beast wagons for thousands of kilometres each year. The animals have little in the way of enrichment or stimulation while confined, nor can they engage in many of their natural behaviours. Animal Circuses have their origins in the Roman Empire. Their purpose was not just to entertain the masses but also to reinforce the myth of human superiority over mere beasts. Many thousands of exotic animals were tortured, butchered and killed during performances at the Colosseum in Rome.
Australia’s first travelling animal circuses were established in the 1850s, but there is no fine tradition to celebrate. Caged lions and tigers, brutalised for the public’s amusement, were exhibited alongside freak shows with exhibits such as the bearded lady, conjoined twins, or the world’s smallest woman. Horrifyingly, a group of Aboriginal people from the Wulguru clan on Palm Island were taken abroad by Barnum and Bailey’s Circus to be displayed alongside other Indigenous people from around the globe. The Wulguru people were promoted as “Australian cannibals” and forced to dance, sing and throw boomerangs to the audience while performing alongside an elephant. Within a year many in the group had succumbed to illness and some died, with the body of an Aboriginal man called Tambo being embalmed and put on permanent display. His remains were finally returned to his country after many approaches by his people.
There is not a shred of credibility to the often stated argument that circuses stimulate people’s interest in conserving exotic animals or respect foranimals’ capability and skill. How can watching a lion balance on a small table possibly have any relevance to understanding the place of the lion on the African savannah? In 2018 there are so many more authoritative ways that people can learn about animals. Animal circuses have never been about education as they now proclaim; rather, they are about human voyeurism, watching animals humiliated and degraded by the manner in which they are forced to perform and be displayed. They become parodies of themselves. No–one with a modicum of empathy could possibly enjoy watching a subjugated animal being forced to perform tricks against their own natural instincts.
Circuses may have moved on from forcing lions and tigers to jump through burning hoops or—the ultimate in voyeurism—the staged death by electrocution of Topsy the elephant at a Coney Island amusement park in 1903, but the reality is still animal suffering and misery. As a society we have become more concerned about animal welfare. In recognition of this change, Australian circus culture underwent a revolution in the late 1970s with the emergence of animal-free alternatives such as Circus Oz, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus and the internationally acclaimed Cirque du Soleil. Fast‑forward to the twenty‑first century and in New South Wales only Lennon Bros Circus, Stardust Circus and Circus Royale continue to use exotic animals such as lions, monkeys and camels. They are left to tour on the fringes of the entertainment circuit and on the outskirts of country towns. Often they are met with animal rights protesters objecting to the circus’s presence in their town.
Acknowledging the growing public disquiet, more than 40 councils in Australia banned exotic animal circuses from performing on council‑owned and controlled land. In New South Wales, such councils included Parramatta, Lismore, Wingecarribee, Newcastle, Blue Mountains, Warringah, Woollahra, Hornsby, Pittwater, Manly, Randwick, Ku-ring-gai, Lake Macquarie, Liverpool and Camden councils. A number of other New South Wales councils are currently being petitioned to ban animal circuses on council land. In 1992, the Australian Capital Territory Government passed legislation prohibiting bears, elephants, giraffes, primates or felines—other than domestic cats—from being exhibited in circuses.
Animals have not been the only victims of circuses. Between 1863 and 2001, there were 131 incidents in Australia in which members of the public or circus workers were harmed. The individuals most likely to suffer injuries or death were animal handlers during performances and training and circus hands feeding animals or cleaning cages. Many of the accidents involving patrons happened because people stood too close to the cages in which animals were housed. Members of the public were mauled by lions, trampled by elephants and lacerated by monkeys. The animals most prone to instigating attacks were lions, followed by tigers and elephants. Elephants killed more often than any other circus animal.
Some circuses were so notorious for the injuries caused that it became a matter of some concern to public safety, but it was not until 1943 that the New South Wales Government finally intervened by cancelling the licence of a particularly negligent circus. Injuries to the public and circus workers continued right up until circuses began closing down due to lack of financial viability. By the early 2000s, only Stardust, Ashton and Lennon Bros circuses exhibited dangerous exotic animals such as lions, tigers and elephants. In 2001 a lion tamer was attacked by three lions at a Lennon Bros Circus performance in Penrith. In 2004 a toddler at Ashton Circus tragically lost his arms after he stuck them through the bars of a cage containing two tigons.
The most recent case stems from a time when I was with Animal Liberation NSW. Until 1996, Stardust Circus had two performing elephants called Arna and Bambi. They had spent their entire lives in captivity, much of it together. Arna witnessed Bambi’s death from anaesthesia complications after treatment for an injured foot. Bambi fell and suffocated to death as a consequence of the treating veterinarian and staff failing to place her in a supportive sling for the surgery.
Elephants are highly social animals and in recognition of that, the circus animal welfare standards require that elephants should not be solitary unless there are compelling reasons. In 2000 Animal Liberation NSW campaigned to have Arna transferred to the Western Plains Zoo given that she had been a solitary elephant for six years and this was causing her significant distress. Imagine a life alone and bound by foot shackles except when performing. Animal Liberation wrote to the then Director General of the Department of Agriculture, stating that if the annual permit was to be issued for Stardust Circus to keep Arna—therefore meaning she would be kept as a solitary elephant—then it would challenge that decision in the New South Wales Supreme Court. This was confirmed and Animal Liberation took Stardust Circus to the Supreme Court, arguing that Arna suffered psychologically as a consequence of her imposed solitude. I sought to have Arna—then in her mid-40s—paired with Gigi, a retired elephant from Ashton Circus. Animal Liberation lost the case but in 2001 Stardust Circus arranged for Gigi to join it.
But the psychological damage had been done. In 2008, for reasons apparently unknown, Arna struck out against her handler. His injuries included a broken back and a ruptured aorta and were found to be the result of a “severe blunt trauma”, with the cause of death being a direct result of Arna crushing his upper back with her foot as he lay on the ground. However, I was informed by a trapeze artist at the circus that Arna’s and Gigi’s handler had beaten Gigi with a piece of 4 by 2 timber before approaching Arna.
As I stated at the time, it has been proven that elephants who kill once will frequently kill again. Ashton Circus elephant Abu killed three workers: in 1974, 1983 and again in 1987. His partner at the time had been Gigi, who was later bought by Stardust Circus as the new companion for Arna. In response to public concern and a directive from the Department of Primary Industries, Stardust retired 53‑year‑old Arna and her companion elephant Gigi, 50, to the Western Plains Zoo, where they lived out their years free of shackles, long hours in the back of beast wagons, and the glare and noise of the circus ring. This tragic episode ended the sorry history of performing elephants in circuses.
This brings me to the ongoing suffering of the remaining exotic animals in travelling circuses in New South Wales. Lions, camels and rhesus macaque monkeys are still exhibited and forced to perform for human entertainment. Animal circus owners tell us that because their lions have been bred for multiple generations in captivity and their macaques have been bred or sourced from zoos, and because the animals are shown affection as if they were companion animals and are extensively trained, they do not suffer from stress or boredom.
In 2009, a University of Bristol study found that circus animals spend most of their days confined, with between 1 per cent and 9 per cent of each day taken up with performing or training and the remaining time spent in so‑called exercise pens. In other words, for at least 90 per cent of each day, the animals are in small, barren, temporary pens that are set up on the featureless, dusty or muddy back paddocks of New South Wales. Monkeys fare even worse, stuck in sterile cages that would be an animal welfare scandal if used in zoos.
Exercise pens are significantly smaller than minimum zoo requirements for outdoor enclosures. Given that there is no difference between the needs of a lion in a zoo and the needs of a circus lion, what is the explanation or justification for that? The reality is that a profitable travelling circus could not have pens the size of zoo enclosures. The circus animal standards therefore allow for this anomaly based on a commercial imperative. The science, however, is very clear that wild animals such as lions cannot flourish in domesticated settings regardless of how long they have been bred in captivity. According to Price in 1999, the conditions of captivity:
… constrain an animal’s behaviours and restricts appropriate, or allows inappropriate, social interactions, both intra- and inter‑specifically …
According to Mason et al in 2001:
Wild animals that have been bred for tens of generations in captivity still show extremely high motivation to perform certain activities seen in their wild counterparts … Be under no illusion that exotic circus animals are anything other than wild animals forced to adapt to and submit themselves to humans. They may have been hand reared, which makes them less fearful towards humans, and they may be described by their handlers as “tamed”, but they can never be considered domesticated. Indeed, in order to tame them, infant animals in circuses are regularly separated from their mother and hand reared. Studies by Dettling in 2002, McEwen in 2007 and Reimers et al in 2007 have shown that this increases stress‑related behaviour and can cause an elevated and prolonged stress response. These increased stress sensitivity effects can last into adulthood.
Circus owners may speak of generationally breeding lions into docility but no studies have been undertaken to establish that selective reproduction has taken place. Genetically speaking, exotic animals in circuses are identical to their wild counterparts. They express similarly high motivation to perform their species‑specific behaviours and their instincts are unaffected. As a result, allegedly tamed exotic animals in captivity are often unpredictable and under stressful circumstances are likely to become aggressive. The University of Bristol study that I referenced earlier examined behaviour, health, living and travelling conditions and compared the conditions of non-domesticated animals in circuses with their counterparts kept in zoos. The study found:
Circus animals spent a great amount of time performing stereotypies, such as head-waving, pacing and repetitive abnormal behaviours, especially when shackled or confined in beast wagons.
Stereotypies are caused by a captive animal’s repeated attempts to adapt to its environment or by a dysfunction of the central nervous system. Locomotory stereotypies include pacing and similar behaviours. Oral stereotypies include repetitive movements with the tongue or repeatedly biting an object. An animal may also perform repetitive movements of the whole body without moving from one place to another, such as swaying. The category would include, for example, a stereotypy sometimes shown by primates that consists of the animal moving its body backwards and forwards while seated. Other stereotypies include excessive grooming, leading sometimes to hair loss and dermatitis.
The motivation for locomotory stereotypies of carnivores is not known with certainty and is likely to result from the combination of several factors. Some studies suggest that lack of space is important, while others point to the inability to perform the normal behaviour of the species as the main cause. In carnivores, pacing is more common in those species that usually travel long distances in the wild. Regardless of how many generations have been born into captivity, all confined exotic animals are at risk of developing stereotypies due to confinement, boredom and the stress caused by the inability to perform normal behaviours. Stereotypic behaviour is particularly associated with performances in circus elephants and, in short, they are driven mad.
The presence of stereotypies is indicative of poor welfare in circus animals. Inadequate diet and housing conditions, and the effects of repeated performances, can also lead to significant health problems. Circus animals travel frequently and the associated forced movement, human handling, noise, wagon movement and confinement are important stressors. Available evidence suggests that performing near spectators may cause severe stress to wild animals. This can be exacerbated by restricted movement options, harsh lighting, exposure to loud or aversive sounds, strange odours and extreme temperatures. For example, stereotypies increase when the music starts just before a performance. I have witnessed that myself.
The type of training that is used affects the welfare of the animals. While we cannot be sure about the exact nature of training methods, any training procedures that include physical punishment will be stressful for and impose fear on the animals undergoing them. In the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, has previously exposed the use of bullhooks on elephants in order to obtain their compliance. Although there is no conclusive evidence as to whether animals habituate to travel, confinement in beast wagons for long periods is a definite welfare concern.
Circuses have a limited ability to make improvements such as providing increased space, environmental enrichment and appropriate social housing that zoos may be able to provide. Given the financial and physical limitations of circuses, social animals are often housed singly, or in groups smaller than the average in the wild, or in unnatural groupings. That prevents establishment of normal social dynamics and has significant consequences for behaviour and welfare. Consequently, the University of Bristol study found that the only non‑domesticated animals suitable for circus life would have low space requirements, simple social structures, low cognitive function, non-specialist ecological requirements and an ability to be transported without adverse welfare effects. None of the commonest species exhibited by circuses, such as elephants and large felids, meet those criteria. They concluded that the species of non-domesticated animals commonly kept in circuses appear the least suited to a circus life.
Animal circuses are closing all around the world. The most famous in the United States, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey, made the decision to close earlier this year after almost 150 years in the business. They attributed the closure to changing community tastes in entertainment, and the community’s growing concerns regarding animal welfare. Forty-five countries have already banned or are transitioning to ban animal circuses, citing animal welfare concerns as the main reason. May New South Wales join Sweden, Costa Rica, India, Finland, Singapore, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Belgium and other countries in moving to ban animals in circuses.
The time is up for exotic animal circuses in this State. The circus families themselves know that they are the last generation to crack the whip against the majestic lion and the magnificent tiger. The shackles of countless generations of tortured elephants will never again be used to subjugate these magnificent gentle and intelligent giants. I respectively ask my fellow members to support this bill and give these animals the compassionate response they deserve. May their final years be spent in a sanctuary rather than in the confines of a beast wagon. I commend the bill to the House.