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Letter: NIU should cancel plan for circus

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

To the Editor:

Northern Illinois University’s Convocation Center plans to host “Circus Spectacular” on March 4, promising “a cultural kaleidoscope of color,” “panorama of pageantry” – sounds good so far – with “enchanting elephants” and “tantalizing tigers”. Excuse me – what?

NIU holds certain principles dear, “ethically inspired leadership” among them, and promotes global engagement and environmental sustainability. Hosting wild animals in a circus context is an affront to these initiatives and values.

Big cats and elephants are long-lived, intelligent animals and many now believe that keeping them as performing animals in a traveling circus is unacceptable from an ethical or animal welfare point of view.

Close confinement, brutal training techniques based on negative reinforcement and grueling travel schedules add up to miserable lives. Elephants face shocks and whacks from sharp “bullhooks” (behind the scenes, of course) for training. It’s not just activists; peer-reviewed research and hidden cameras suggest that circus cats and elephants suffer considerably. The circus in question, Cardin Entertainment, has been cited numerous times for failing to meet minimum Animal Welfare Act standards, as documented by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Studies in the wild tell us big cats and elephants are capable of considerable intelligence and emotion. Elephants form tight social bonds and “mourn” family members years after their death, often visiting their skeletal remains.

Several governments are recognizing the incompatibility of circus animals with minimum acceptable animal welfare standards. The Dutch government introduced a ban on their use, followed by Greece, Bolivia, the United Kingdom, and dozens of U.S. cities.

African elephants are listed as vulnerable, and Asian elephants and tigers are endangered; many tiger subspecies teeter on the brink of extinction. In this global context, NIU, as an educational institution, must consider the impression we give to community members, young and old. We cannot expect children to care about threatened wild animals if they are presented as a source of entertainment.

Will we teach our children that wildlife needs to be preserved in its wild context? That animals that feel pain, suffering and emotion should have certain basic rights respected? Or will we teach them that nature’s main function is to provide us with entertainment, regardless of the suffering?

The growing number of signatures on a change.org petition suggest that many NIU and DeKalb County community members are opposed to this event. Will NIU do the right thing and cancel?

Mitchell Irwin


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