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Circus Roncalli in Germany recently unveiled a stunning and innovative act featuring computer-generated holograms of wild animals. The act — brought to life by projectors, lasers and lenses — is not only enchanting to watch, but also completely cruelty-free.
Circuses have been entertaining people throughout the world for centuries, but they’ve recently come under scrutiny for their treatment of the animals used in their shows. The failure of the circus industry to effectively address these concerns has resulted in dwindling ticket sales.
Circus acts commonly feature wild animals, including elephants, tigers and camels. While in the wild, these species traverse vast ecosystems where they can express their natural behaviors. But in the circus, they are forced to live in captivity and be carted from show to show.
According to PAWS, circus animals spend almost 96 percent of their lives in chains or cages. Many animals have minimal stimulation. And highly social species, such as elephants, may be isolated from conspecifics. This deprivation can have serious deleterious effects on the mental well-being of animals, who often display signs of distress while in the circus.
When the animals are performing, they may be forced to do demeaning tricks that treat these majestic species as props for human entertainment. The tricks, such as having elephants perform handstands, are far outside the animals’ normal behavior.
To get the animals to complete these tricks, cruel training tools — such using bullhooks, whips and rods — may be used. Undercover investigations have revealed instances of circus staff repeatedly hitting elephants, as well as whipping a tiger 31 times in less than two minutes.
In recent years, public sentiment has shifted as more people have become aware of the cruelty circus animals endure. A 2019 poll found only 30% of people believe circus animals are treated well, and over 50% support the prohibition of wild animals in circuses.
Bans on circus animals have been popping up in the United States at the local and state levels. In 2018, New Jersey became the first state to ban the use of wild animals in traveling acts. At the city level, both Los Angeles and New York City have also banned using wild animals in circuses.
The circus industry has been slow to adapt to concerns over animal welfare. Ringling Bros. closed down in 2017 due to declining ticket sales — likely a result of changing attitudes toward circus animals. Although Ringling Bros. stopped using elephants in its performances the previous year, the change was too small to salvage the company’s reputation.
The recent hologram animal act at Circus Roncalli illustrates how the industry can use ingenuity to keep the spirit of the circus alive without sacrificing animal welfare. Other circuses should follow suit. And soon they may need to if the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act — which would ban the use of wild animals in traveling acts — becomes law.
The circus is beloved throughout the world for its awe-inspiring acts showcasing people with incredible talents — from the tightrope walkers to the jugglers and trapeze artists. But if the industry does not evolve past animal cruelty, the shows may soon be closing their door.
Main image credit: sArhange1/Getty Images