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In the main ring, under the Big Top, an attractive young acrobat is balancing on a sealion's NOSE. Is this great entertainment.. or yet another case of animal cruelty?

Byline: Michelle O'Keeffe

ANIMAL rights activists have branded THREE of Ireland's top circuses as cruel and degrading.

The Captive Animals' Protection Society has lashed out at Circus Vegas, Fossett's and Duffy's, accusing them of causing suffering to their animals - a claim circus owners say is disputed by independent vets.

CAPS claims circuses are forcing wild animals to live in cramped, squalid, captivity and perform unnatural, dangerous acts, and say many of the exotic animals including elephants, sealions, tigers and alligators, have shown signs of stress and frustration.

Craig Redmonds, a CAPS campaigner, said the group was shocked at conditions it found at the circuses it investigated.

He said: "For many people the circus is the greatest show on earth - but the public is never shown what goes on behind the glamourof the Big Top.

"Anyone who does look can see animals should not be kept in such conditions for our amusement.

"Circuses can simply never meet all of the needs of wild animals such as elephants, big cats or sealions.

"Such creatures have complex needs and a circus that travels the country for most of the year can, by their very nature, only provide temporary accommodation.

"Vets specialising in the welfare and behaviour of wild animals in captivity have criticised the conditions we have exposed."

When CAP investigated the circuses, they uncovered helpless exotic animals being forced to live in appalling conditions.

Craig said: "In Circus Vegas after the sealions were finished performing they were taken away and put in a small pool of dirty water on the back of a lorry.

"Vets we consulted believe this is inappropriate accommodation which could cause eye disease and other infections.

"This circus also keeps elephants chained by their legs between performances.

"Duffy's Circus houses their tigers in a circus beast wagon with a very small exercise area. The alligators are kept in a tank built into the side of a lorry and one alligator was wearing a harness over his head which prevented him from opening his mouth."

Craig told how ruthless trainers force these captive wild animals to perform acts that hurt and injure them.

"In the ring majestic animals are ridiculed and forced into performing unnatural and dangerous acts.

"At Circus Vegas elephants were made to 'dance' and regularly have a man hang from their tusks.

"The elephants' physical health are put at risk by making them vigorously twirl their trunks. They are also forced to hold each other's tails. This can cause injury and paralysis if the tail is pulled hard.

"During the interval an elephant is made to lie down on his front so children can get photos taken on his back. This is an unnatural position for an elephant.

"Performers who balance on sealions' snouts also cause damage to the animal."

He said ill-treated animals show signs of their abuse by constant pacing and swaying which exposes their stress and frustration.

Fossett's performing elephant Micki, who faces a long journey by ship from Sweden every circus season to entertain Irish crowds, showed typical signs of stress.

After Micki performed the usual circus routines of standing and sitting on a podium, and standing on her back legs she was found by CAP investigators weaving or rocking, which is a typical sign of stress.

Vet and animal behaviourist Samantha Scott said the animals in all three circuses showed signs of conflict and mental suffering.

She added: "It is difficult to talk about cruelty when it comes to circuses and zoos, as often they are given sufficient food and water.

"The real problem is mental suffering - the animals in circuses are denied their basic freedom.

"Elephants, for example, have no access to the normal group structure they are used to.

"But obviously animals can't say they are unhappy but their behaviour does indicate their mental state.

"The animals in these circuses were all weaving which is stepping back and forward and swinging their heads. There were elephants, camels and even horses doing this action."

CAPS has called on the public not to support animal circuses.

Craig said: "The public can make a difference by not going to circuses that have performing animals and instead visiting human-only circuses.

A spokesman from Fossetts Circus denied any allegations of animal suffering.

He said: "Ted O'Connor, an inspector for the Cork Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty, has come to inspect all our animals and gave us the thumbs up.

"We are guided by vets and animal experts and they all tell us there is nothing wrong with our animals. This underlines what we already know."

A spokesman from Duffy's said: "We have our own independent veterinary group and it has never found any signs of animal suffering with our animals."

Circus Vegas could not be contacted yesterday.

WRITE AND TELL US WHAT YOUTHINK..

CAMPAIGNERS argue that allowing a performer to balance on a sealion's snout is cruel; others see it as harmless fun for both the animal and audience.

And can allowing children to have their photographs taken on the back of a kneeling elephant really be doing harm?

For some the circus is the greatest show on earth with a magic of its own, while others see it as outdated and dangerous for the animals involved.

Now it's your chance to have a say in the great circus debate. Write to: Irish Sunday Mirror, Park House, 191-197 North Circular Road, Dublin 7.

CAPTION(S):

OUCH: How would you like someone balancing on your nose?; CAGE FRIGHT: The Captive Animals' Protection Society claims that animals like this Duffy's Circus tiger suffer stress in the ring. Left: the sealion pool at Circus Vegas. Below: Chained Circus Vegas elephants
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 14, 2003
Words:944
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