Wetenschap - 15 november 2012

Ban on circus animals is symbolic gesture

The new cabinet wants to ban the use of wild animals in circuses.

Hans Hopster, lector in Animal Welfare at Van Hall Larenstein, did research on the welfare of circus animals in 2008. He sees this ban as a symbolic political gesture.
'Although this looks like a tough measure, there is not really much to it, when you look at the how few wild animals there are in Dutch circuses and how little animal suffering you will prevent with this ruling. In 2008, we found about 120 animals in six circuses. Most of them were horses and camels and they did not seem any worse for wear. Apart from them we came across seven lions, eleven tigers and three elephants.'
How were they faring?
'I don't think elephants should be kept in circuses anymore; the environment is not right for them. Being true browsers, it is in their nature to spend a lot of time gathering food. Circus workers do their level best but it is very hard to put together an adequate diet for elephants. Moreover, the elephants we came across were often chained for the safety of humans and other animals. Altogether, this treatment means they end up getting very bored, also because they are alone or just have just one or two others for company. Yet elephants are extremely sociable animals. So I support a ban on circus elephants. But unlike elephants, lions and tigers do not stop mating as circus animals. It seems the environment is not so stressful as to suppress the reproduction process.
So why this measure then?
The general public will probably applaud the measure. Earlier this year we published the results of a public survey with the question: should the interests of human beings or those of the animals have priority in the use of animals in a circus? The prevailing view was clearly that the interests of the animal should take priority over those of human beings.'
And what do you think?
'I think about animal welfare in terms of kilos of animal suffering, looking at the numbers of animals involved and the duration and degree of their suffering. And then I say to the government: don't put too much effort into a handful of circus animals, but concentrate on the hereditary problems in animal breeding and the millions of animals on livestock farms.'

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