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For Tormented Circus Animals, Paris, the City of Light, Is Now the City of Hope



  • by Diana O. Potter

Once in a while, we see on the news someone who’s been locked up in a basement for years without adequate food or exercise, tortured, and only rarely brought out into the light to “perform” — act normally, say that everything’s fine, what’s all the fuss about? — for suspicious family or community investigators. We’re shocked, shocked! How could anyone do that to another human being? It’s not acceptable, period.

For years, however, many people have been doing just that to the many wild animals in circuses, with no concern for their health or the way they were born to live. What’s more, except for the pleadings of the comparatively few animal advocates, It’s not only been considered “fine” but essential for circuses in order to keep attracting customers.

These animals — most commonly lions, tigers, elephants, bears, and, oddly, parrots — have either been born in captivity or kidnapped from their natural environments, trained to perform human-style tricks by punishing and intimidating them until they “get it,” and then condemned to a life of traveling about in cramped, unsanitary cages with nothing to do until they are brought out to “perform.”

Paris Takes the Lead in France

Although a number of countries have banned wild-animal circuses, including the UK, Italy, Austria, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Singapore, Israel, and Mexico, it is still not banned nationwide in France or, for that matter, in the US. (However, in 2019, Hawaii and New Jersey passed statewide laws banning use of all wild animals in circuses, and California, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts have introduced similar legislation.)

While France continued to lag what’s becoming a trend, the Council of Paris decided to act on its own. In mid-November 2019 the council adopted a resolution, to take effect in 2022, to ban all wild-animal circuses from performing in the city.

The city had already moved, in 2017, to stop issuing licenses to these circuses. However, three already had licenses and so have been able to continue in business in Paris. For these three, over the next three years, the council will offer financial assistance for adapting to the new resolution as well as help with safe retirement of their performing animals. 

Understandably, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) applauds the Paris council’s action. A spokesperson stated, “Forcing wild animals to perform confusing tracks is a barbaric practice that has no place in a compassionate society….As the British Veterinary Association has said, ‘The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within the environment of a traveling circus, especially in terms of accommodation and the ability to express normal behavior.’”

In other words, the PETA spokesperson concluded, “[A]nimals forced to perform will always suffer. The only humane option is to keep them out of circuses altogether.”

Surely we all agree.

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