Tethered elephants, crudely clipped wings, raw wounds, cataracts and partial blindness and animals stuffed into tiny rusted cages like luggage, are common sights behind the gala stage in many of India’s circuses. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India along with Animal Rahat (a non-profit organisation working on animal welfare), conducted an undercover investigation, sanctioned by Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) in 16 out of the 20 registered circuses in India and revealed the shocking conditions of circus animals.

The nine month long investigation from November 2012- July 2013 recorded rampant violations of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960, Performing Animals (Registration) Rules (PAR) and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. According to PAR, every owner with ten or more animals should hire a veterinarian as a regular staff for their care treatment and transport; a blatantly disregarded rule. Other often broken rules include- no transport by road for more than eight hours, ensure proper feeding and watering halts during transport, no exposure to fire during performance or accidents, no injured, sick or pregnant animals should be made to perform.

Despite existing laws and regulations, PETA India is of the view that circuses are not capable of cultivating an animal-friendly environment. The animals, some of which are obtained from questionable sources, are kept in captivity in sub-human conditions leading to severe diseases and most often leading in psychological disorders in the animals. The training methods include use of weapons to induce pain which force the animal to perform ‘entertaining’ acts, which amounts to more broken rules. The animals should not be inflicted unnecessary pain and suffering during performance, training and exhibition and should only be allowed to perform acts which comply with the animal’s basic natural instincts, are some of the rules listed in the PAR.

PETA India is urging the government to follow the example of Bolivia, Cyprus, and Greece and enforce a total ban on using animals in circus. According to Dr. Manilal Villiyate (Director, Veterinary Affairs, PETA India), “Even if the laws are ‘magically’ enforced and followed cruelty is inherent in circuses”. According to PAR, circuses are required to register the animals in custody, the tricks that they will be performing and submit a monthly health certificate to the AWBI and the Central Zoo Authority (CZA). However, a lot of discrepancies were reported in the records maintained by the circuses, the reports submitted to the AWBI and CZA by circuses and the actual on-ground reality of the animals. “In many cases, the animals which were registered with the AWBI had children which were not registered,” said Dr. Manilal. The young ones, in some cases were not even mentioned in the respective circus records.

Inspectors reported that diseased/injured animals and animals exhibiting signs of mental stress and frustration, psychological disorders were being forced to perform and travel, and remain in captivity the rest of the time. Many animals that were deemed ‘fit’ to travel were in advanced stages of pregnancy, had unhealed wounds, transported without food and water and some have to accommodate other luggage in their cages during travel. Virtually all birds had their primary wings clipped once every two months with a blade, hence, rendering them flightless. Even if one was to ignore the physical pain that causes, losing the ability to fly is known to cause depression among birds. Moreover, there were no veterinarians appointed by the circuses and many were caught red handed forging signatures of veterinarians on health and transport certificates of the animals.

Out of the investigated circuses, the Great Champion Circus was the only circus with all-human performers. . The findings of the investigation were compiled into a report and submitted to the AWBI, the CZA and the Ministry of Forest and Environment. Currently PETA India is calling on the government to impose a total ban on animals in circuses, meanwhile also urging State governments and Union Territories to do the same.

More In: Delhi