THERE was a time when human oddities – the bearded lady, the Siamese twins – were a staple of the circus sideshow.
Times evolved, values changed and the freak show was ditched into the dustbin of history.
It’s time exotic animals in circuses went the same way.
This week, one of the nation’s last remaining animal circuses, Lennon Bros, brought its big top to Wagga.
It was greeted with the usual cocktail of fear and revulsion.
Indeed, much of the hysteria around circus animals reeks of moral superiority.
Picketing animal circuses has become a cause celebre, with opponents hyperventilating on outrage at the mere thought of exotic animals being kept in captivity.
The reality is not quite as dramatic.
Circus manager Cheryl Lennon told The Advertiser this week the animals were not caged and were treated like family pets.
She argued the animals would simply not perform if they were being mistreated.
She also made the important point the circus was operating within the law and blasted objectors as a “vocal minority”. On the last count at least, she’s wrong.
It may not be an overwhelming majority, but most Australians would react with a genuine sense of unease at the thought of these exotic animals being held captive. There is something perverse about majestic animals being kept solely for our pleasure.
This is not an issue of political correctness, it’s about protecting those that can’t protect themselves. In a supposedly enlightened society, we should be aware of the fundamental message an animal circus sends. Quite apart from the cruelty involved in training and confining these animals, the whole idea that we should enjoy the spectacle of an elephant or lion made to perform circus tricks shows a lack of respect for the animals and shows children that animals exist for our amusement.
A 2009 study from the University of Bristol found that “unless the species or individual required a small living area, had a simple social structure, low intelligence and could tolerate frequent transportation, then they would suffer”.
If that’s the case, too many of these animals are suffering unnecessarily. That alone should see them outlawed.