PETA’s display on UNLV was wrong about circus animals

PETA2, a youth branch of the animal rights advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), set up a display in the amphitheatre last week, showcasing the many abuses of animals throughout history. While their intentions were good, PETA messed up on the display with their claim that Ringling Bros. Circus was one of the initial abusers of animal rights and that its closing at the end of this tour season is a victory.

Having grown up in the circus business and having aunts and cousins who work for The Greatest Show On Earth, I have knowledge that PETA doesn’t like to show in their huge displays.

In my family’s circus, Circo Osorio, which has been in business for over a century with a branch here in the U.S. and another currently on tour in Mexico, our animals are treated like royalty. Bronco, the circus’ mini horse, gets fed healthy helpings on a regular basis throughout the day, is walked by a personal laborer on frequent intervals, is bathed whenever there is water to do so, has his hooves cleaned and teeth brushed at the beginning and end of each show day, is fed apples for braying and being cute, and has a best friend named Donkey.

Honestly, if that’s not the ideal life for any animal that still lives in the wild, I don’t know what is.

This “royalty treatment” towards animals is a huge deal for any circus that wants to have pride and respect in their show. While I will agree with PETA that there are many shows that do not have the resources to take good care of their animals, this is not a representation of the whole circus world. I have aunts and uncles who trained circus animals their whole lives— some who actually worked in Ringling Bros.— who will always attest to the love and concern given to the animals they trained.

My late Tio Chaparro, for example, grew up training lions in Mexico. Just as he was able to walk, his parents had him play with the newborn cubs to prepare them for their future in the big top. As he and the lions grew older, their respect for each other became unbreakable.

At the peak of his performing career, Tio Chaparro was dubbed the “Mexican Tarzan” for his sensational act in which he put his entire head into the mouth of a lion. This relationship did not grow on any kind of fear between human and animal, but on the love and respect that had been cultivated through a shared life.

Working and understanding is one thing; working and not understanding is something else entirely. This is the problem with PETA’s stances towards the “exploitation” of animals in circuses. They do not fully understand circuses nor do they understand the consequences their “animal liberation” campaigns have on circuses around the world.

In Mexico, where animal liberation groups like PETA have been campaigning for decades, animals are banned from performing in circuses. While this will sound like a good thing for PETA supporters, there is a huge issue looming in the background: the inability to find suitable homes for the animals in Mexico. Many of the smaller circuses simply can’t provide the support to take care of the animals without the revenue they usually draw from them.

As a result, many circus animals are being put to sleep or simply being abandoned for lack of better options. The “liberation” is not liberating at all; it is only creating more hopeless situations for performing animals.

As for the human side of the issue, there are the effects that closing down circuses like Ringling Bros. has on the performers and the circus community as a whole. Hundreds of people, including my aunt and cousin, will be out of work by the time the tour ends. If you know anything about the circus, you know the market for jobs is pretty dry right now.

Just like the animals, the people are forced to relocate into an unsuitable environment. For my aunt and cousin, it means having to leave the only lives they’ve ever known.

Pretending that ending Ringling Bros. Circus is a victory is delusional. The truth is that it is only the beginning of larger and worse problem for circus animals around the U.S.

Extreme views often lead to extreme consequences—consequences I’m sure my tio, aunts, uncles and the circus family are dreading.

Our only hope is that PETA’s extreme activism will eventually see the love and respect the circus community has towards their animals, not only as sources of livelihood, but as members of the family.

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