The idea of using animals in the circus has been controversial for some time. Although some circus employees insist they use humane methods, and form incredible bonds with the animals, numerous activist groups claim that abuse happens more often than not.
Recently, Mexico City has decided that any instance of abuse was simply too much. They've joined six other states within the country, banning animals in circus acts.
The fines for those who fail to comply are substantial, and up to 65,000 USD will be extracted from any entertainment group that includes wild animals in their act. That said, some animal rights organizations claim the new law falls too short. Water parks and animals such as dolphins are exempt. Even more controversially, bullfighting will still be allowed within the city. Activists have also pointed out that the new law does not mandate that any circuses get rid of their animals, only that they cannot be used within shows.
These exemptions, especially bullfighting, which has been condemned as animal torture, have garnered criticism from circus groups.
Stephen Payne, who works as a spokesman for Ringling Brothers parent company, Feld Entertainment, issued a statement decrying the lack of consistency in the new law. "If their goal is animal welfare improvements, regulate them. Otherwise you're just driving these circuses to look for venues outside the federal district."
Circuses will have a year to remove their animal acts before the fines set in.
Almost without fail, every major animal rights group in the world opposes the use of animals in circus acts. Not only have animal abuses run rampant, but it also sets up an element of danger for the humans in and around these shows.
It's easy to forget that animals, no matter how beautiful or adorable, are still wild animals. And even if trainers and circuses do treat them with the utmost respect and care, they can still snap. Once they've decided to make a break, larger animals, such as confused elephants, are nearly impossible to control or escape from. No matter how big your SUV is, to a 4,000 pound African elephant, it can easily turn into a plaything.
So when an elephant goes on a rampage it puts not only patrons attending the show in danger, but those out on the street as well. Just this year, three elephants belonging to Shrine Circus escaped in St. Louis and trampled a number of cars in the parking lot. Luckily, in this instance nobody was hurt.
However, this is hardly an isolated event. Trainers being killed and elephants escaping before sustaining injuries on busy highways or in parking lots is happening multiple times a year. In one 2010 escape from Cole Bros. Circus, an elephant named Viola bolted past ticket holders who were sent running into the parking lot. In the 30 minutes she was free, Viola broke her toenail and hurt her shoulder while slipping down a mud embankment into a ravine.
Back in Mexico City, the passing of this law was almost universally supported by the government. During the vote on the floor, there were 41 voters for the ban, zero voters against it, and 11 abstaining. Yet as soon as the press conference emptied, the circus employees began to rally.
A protest of more than 1,000 workers came out against the ban, claiming that this move will leave hundreds of families without work. Many argued that the animals were born in the circus and since it's the only life they've ever known, it is a humane one.
However, this didn't change the minds of groups such as Animal Circuses, who replies, "Regardless of the number of generations that wild animals have been in captivity, captive-born wild animals do not lose the instincts and needs of wild animals. They retain their natural instincts to socialise and to roam freely. Circuses deny captive-born wild animals of their need to exhibit their natural behaviours."
And for many, regardless of the amount of love or respect some circuses bestow their animals, this simple fact that wild animals are brought up in cages without the ability to roam untamed and free, is enough to say no to animals in circuses.