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Archive for June 2010

Why I Put Down the Red Nose

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By André du Broc

I’ve spent much of my life in careers centered around making others happy. As an actor, I believed that my first responsibility was to the audience. They needed to be engaged by everything that I did on stage. This was particularly true of my time as a circus clown. If an audience’s joy depended on my dropping my pants, I dropped my pants. If it meant taking a pie in the face, so be it.

The veneer of the circus was everything I desired in a career. It was a chance to make masses of people happy, a chance to travel, and an opportunity to take my silliness very seriously. What I found backstage, however, was very different.

Audiences come to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth primarily to see two things—clowns and elephants.

I spent most of my time with the elephants. In Tampa, I had a roommate who was an elephant trainer for a local zoo, so I had a deep fondness for these animals. If you look into the eyes of an elephant, you can’t help but remark at their soulfulness. They are filled with expression. When an elephant is happy, you can tell at a glance. Back in Tampa, when the elephants were allowed to play in the water, their eyes would twinkle, and their trunks would curl up, pulling their large mouths into an unmistakable smile.

I never saw elephants in the circus make that face. They looked tired, frustrated, angry, and so very sad. I stopped one elephant handler to ask why a particular elephant had tears pouring down the sides of her face. He pointed to the welt on his face from where she had slapped him with her trunk. He then showed me his bullhook, a 2-foot-long stick with a metal hook on the end. “I gave her about 10 good whacks across her skull. Bam! Bam! Bam!” he demonstrated.

There was always a bullhook in the corner of the apartment in Tampa. The metal hook had a blunt, rounded tip. My roommate had explained that it was used to hook the inside of where the mouth and trunk met. You give it a slight tug and the elephant will move in that direction. I witnessed many of the Ringling trainers sharpening their bullhooks to dangerous points. They wanted the elephants to fear them, and the best way to do that was to inflict as much pain as possible.

King Tusk had a particularly sad story. When he came to Ringling from another circus in 1986, he was the largest traveling land mammal alive. At 42 years old, weighing 14,762 pounds and standing 12 feet 6 inches tall, King Tusk (Tommy) was spectacular. In the wild, elephants are constantly rubbing down their tusks to reduce the weight carried by their head. Tommy, however, had been prohibited from doing so for 42 years. His tusks were more than 7 feet long and put enormous weight and strain on his back. He had arthritis in his neck and back, and by the time I joined the circus, he could no longer perform any tricks.

Instead of retiring this great elephant and shaving down his tusks so that he could live out his remaining years in comfort, Ringling would have him simply stand in the center ring while two acrobats performed on his back.

Tommy was finally transferred to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in 1998 after spending 51 years performing in circuses. Columbus sent him to live out his remaining years at Two Tails Ranch’s elephant facility in Florida, where at 57 years of age he was finally euthanized just before Christmas 2002.

I am grateful for the experiences that I had in the circus. I learned about who I am as a person, an entertainer, and a clown. Most importantly, I learned what dignity means. I filled my steamer trunk with plenty of it as I rolled it out of Clown Alley and away from the Big Top forever.

I will not go to a Ringling show ever again.

Tommy would have wanted it that way.

André du Broc graduated from Clown College in 1992 and went on the road with Ringling’s blue unit. He left the circus about a month later because he could no longer bear to witness the horrific treatment of the animals. André maintains a blog at http://www.TooManyCookies.wordpress.com.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 25, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

BP should face cruelty charges

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

BP has more than the loss of human life, livelihoods and tourism to answer for. And so do the government inspectors who allowed this corporation—as seemingly greedy as the bankers, mining companies and marine park owners whose careless conduct has resulted in similar destruction—to put profit over safety. 

If the criminal investigation of BP and those who signed off on the drill-site inspection sheets and safety assurances shows willful fraud and deception, dereliction of duty, bribes or who knows what else, there is one additional set of criminal charges that should be added to the list: cruelty to animals. For this is the largest case of cruelty to animals in U.S. history. 

We are being spared, for political reasons, some think, but mercifully perhaps, most of the photographs of the animals who have died and are still dying, slowly, painfully, not just coated but drenched in oil. It is hard for anyone with a heart to see the gulls and pelicans, blinking up through a thick coat of muck that prevents them from flying, eating, taking a drink of water and escaping the burning heat of June. It is even too much to come across a snippet of video that shows a huge rubber-gloved hand gently plucking a tiny crab out of a puddle of black glop. Only the outline of his body tells you what he is, although his struggles tell you that he is still alive. For the moment.

For most of the animals, any help is too late. Studies show that even if wildlife rescuers capture an oiled bird in time, before much damage has been done, the terror of being handled by a predator, of being force-fed, doused and scrubbed, is too much for their pounding hearts to endure. Even if they survive the trauma of being cleaned and re-cleaned, it is suspected that most die after their release.

And in this case, one must ask, “Where can they be released?” Many birds mate for life; others are lost without their flocks. Their nesting grounds now lie under the oil slick; their friends and family are dead or dying. What is there for them to return to?

And what of the turtles, dolphins and―dare I write it―the whales? Cetacean experts do not expect whales to escape this slick completely. Once killed for their own oil, will they now be killed by ours?

And don’t laugh, but what of the fish? As inconvenient as it may be to think about it, given the seafood buffets of summer, studies show that fish feel pain and fear just as acutely as mammals do.
Whether or not BP is charged with cruelty, there are many things that we can and should do other than just pointing a finger. Some suggestions are to provide less support to oil companies by consuming less oil, by buying fewer oil-based plastic goods (the beaches of Hawaiian atolls are inches deep in discarded plastic) and by following the recommendations issued by the United Nations this month and going vegan in order to save the waterways, forests and ozone layer. Paul McCartney’s “Meat-Free Monday” project is getting institutions and individuals to look at the environmental devastation caused by energy-intensive factory farming and to do something about it by reducing meat consumption. In taking responsibility, President Obama would do well to announce that he, too, is embracing at least that one baby step.  

Those responsible in the corporate world and in government can never truly make amends. How do you “make it up” to those who are suffering and dying in agony out there at this very moment or to those who have already lost their lives or loved ones? However, before looking away from the umpteenth heart-wrenching photo of an oil-coated pelican, the rest of us can do something positive and make some personal choices ourselves so that none of the oil companies will be able to claim consumer demand as a reason for misbehaving. It’s just a thought.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org. Her latest book is The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 16, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Get hooked on compassion—not fishing

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By Paula Moore

Coming in June, it’s “Free Fishing Day”—your “one chance during the year to get hooked for free!” (exclamation point courtesy of the Nevada Department of Wildlife). Anglers across the country are being encouraged to take advantage of states’ upcoming license-free days by introducing friends and family members to their favorite blood sport.

Sorry, does that sound harsh? We don’t like to think about it, but there’s no longer any doubt that fish can feel pain. We should stop pretending that hurting animals for “fun” is an acceptable way to spend an afternoon.

I haven’t always felt this way. Like most people, I grew up thinking that fishing was a normal pastime. My father fished, and when I was a kid, I often accompanied him on fishing trips. I loved talking to my dad on the long drives to the lake and back—although, admittedly, my favorite part of these outings was stopping by the bait shop, because the man who owned the shop had a “pet” skunk. I played with the skunk while my father purchased items for our trip.

And my least favorite part? Fishing. Hooking worms was gross, and I always felt uncomfortable when we’d pull a fish out of the water. Adults said that fish don’t feel pain, but that was hard to believe while watching a fish struggle and gasp for air as my father removed the hook. I was always secretly glad when we didn’t catch any fish.

Science has caught up with what I knew instinctively as a kid: Fish do feel pain, and they suffer greatly when they are impaled in the mouth by a sharp hook.

In her new book Do Fish Feel Pain?, biologist Victoria Braithwaite says that “there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals—and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies.

After surveying the scientific literature on fish pain and intelligence, not only did researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada conclude that fish feel pain, they also insisted that their welfare deserves our consideration.

For anglers who argue that fish “lack the brains” to feel pain, University of Guelph researcher Dr. Ian Duncan reminds us that we “have to look at behaviour and physiology,” not just anatomy. “It’s possible for a brain to evolve in different ways,” he says. “That’s what is happening in the fish line. It’s evolved in some other ways in other parts of the brain to receive pain.”

Fish are “brainy” in other respects too. According to recent studies, fish can count, tell time and recognize individuals—including individual humans. The assistant curator of the London Zoo’s aquarium says that fish there know the difference between an aquarium worker (who might have food) and a visitor (who doesn’t).

Fish also have complex social relationships and “talk” to one another underwater. They can use tools and learn by watching what other fish do. And they have impressive long-term memories: In one study, fish who had learned how to escape from a net in their tank could still remember how they did it 11 months later. That’s like you or me remembering something from 40 years ago.

But, you say, fishing can help parents get their kids to go outside, away from the computer. So can hiking, biking and canoeing. When I went fishing with my dad as a kid, the actual fishing was always the least important—and least enjoyable—part of our trips. Children want to spend time with their parents, and there are certainly better ways to do that than inflicting pain on small, defenseless animals. Instead of participating in your state’s free fishing day this year, why not get your kids hooked on compassion?

Paula Moore is a research specialist for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 7, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized