The Greatest Show on Earth

Rating: NNNNNAnimal rights activists will be holding their annual vigil outside the big top when the Garden Brothers Circus rolls.

Rating: NNNNN

Animal rights activists will be holding their annual vigil outside the big top when the Garden Brothers Circus rolls into the Skydome this weekend. The treatment circus animals endure, they say, is nothing short of slave labour.

Life as a circus animalLife as a circus animal

Size of cages typically used by most circuses to transport performing animals: 4-by-10 feet

Amount of time performing animals are kept in cages, chained or tethered in captivity: up to 90 per cent of the time

Time animals actually spend performing: as little as a few minutes a day

Tools used to train performing animals: whips, tight collars, prods, muzzles, bull hooks, (other methods include drugging and removing teeth and claws for “safety” reasons)

Number of travelling road shows throughout North America: 300

Number of weeks performing animals travel per year: between 40 and 50


Constant captivity often leads to abnormal behaviour patterns, including hyper-aggression, apathy and self-mutilation.

Number of people who’ve died in North America since 1980 in incidents involving performing animals: about 100

Number of people seriously injured annually in North America by performing animals: about 50

Amount by which Zoocheck says number of serious injuries has increased since last year: threefold


Performing animals have less access to quality food and water

Are typically smaller and have a shorter life expectancy than their counterparts in the wild

Are denied the mobility and socialization integral to a healthy life.

Behind the scenesBehind the scenes

To bolster their bottom line, zoos like Bowmanville and African Lion Safari rent animals to travelling circuses as well as for special events.

Large corporations in the U.S. have been cited for renting TB-infected animals, especially dangerous to children, to circuses in Canada.

Performing animals deemed dangerous are destroyed at a rate of several a year.

Many performing animals come from the wild, and are not bred in captivity, as some zoos suggest.

THE Legal loopholesTHE Legal loopholes

There are currently no provincial or federal laws specifically protecting performing animals.

The Criminal Code, which is usually cited by circus proponents as being sufficient, has a number of serious limitations, including the fact that animals are treated as property. Also, harmful acts against animals are generally not considered criminal by the courts.

Access to inspection reports conducted by government agencies isn’t available to the public.

No proper tracking of animals is required, so it’s next to impossible to determine what happens to them when they’re “retired.”

The city of Toronto wiped a bylaw prohibiting animal acts off its books after the circus industry and Skydome took the city to court in 92.


At least 39 municipalities across the country have prohibited or severely restricted animal acts.

What activists say What activists say

Performing animals endure a life of emptiness, deprivation and brutality, in addition to being degraded. Circuses don’t need wild animals to be successful.

What Garden Brothers says What Garden Brothers says

Garden Bros. is committed to preserving and protecting all animals. The animals in our performances are cared for around the clock (and) receive the highest-quality foods, are exercised regularly and inspected daily. Ninety per cent of the animals you will see in our shows have been born and raised in captivity (and) are being spared the dangers and hardships of fighting for survival, and are protected from being poached for aphrodisiacs, ivory and even simple sport.

It’s unfortunate that many traditional circus animals are endangered. We realize that the presence of these animals at Garden Bros. Circus may not guard against the depletion of their natural habitat. However, if a glimpse of the beauty and majesty of these natural wonders inspires just one person to protect and preserve wildlife around the world, then what a great planet it would be.

When humans and animals play and work together, each can learn from the other.

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