Did you know that human zoos existed in the 19th and 20th centuries? These zoos operated in Europe and the US and were called “ethnological expositions”. In those kinds of zoos, Western people could see other people that were caught and brought there from all over the world—the ‘primitive‘ states as Westerns called them. There were expositions with Laplanders, Sami from Finland, Africans, and Asians. The last and the most famous “exposition” was presented in Belgium at the World’s Fair in 1958! You can learn more about human zoos on Wikipedia. But I’m sure you agree with me, that this is the most shocking, disgusting, and unbelievable thing we can imagine. Now modern zoos and circuses with animals are in the line to be banned and I want to tell you a few stories to demonstrate why…

Singapore Zoo

I’d never been to zoos and circuses with animals while I was a child because my parents were against using animals for this kind of amusement. The first and the last time I visited a zoo was 6 years ago during my holidays in Singapore. I didn’t want to go to an ordinary zoo, but a lot of people who’ve been to the Singapore Zoo told me it’s not an ordinary zoo where animals suffer, it looks more likely as a national reserve. I paid a lot for an admission fee (now an adult ticket costs $37). I spent 2 hours on a bus to get in… And I left the Zoo after 10 min because I could not see what was going on there anymore.

So there I was, ready to enjoy almost free animals in replicated landscapes! The first animal I saw was a polar bear! It was +40°C. The bear lived in a small and dark building. Inside the building was a little bit colder than outside but still too hot. A bear swam in a small swimming pool with glass walls. I looked at him and was so sorry because he had to live in this hot climate in the dark building without any solar light. I do not understand how and why they brought a polar bear here !? Who is that crazy person who decided that it would be cool for visitors?

When I left the building I faced a monkey feeding station. It was exactly the scheduled time for feeding monkeys. There were a lot of visitors around, they wanted to see how monkeys eat bananas and other fruits. There was only one problem—the monkeys didn’t want to eat. So, the zoo workers started to hit them with sticks. The monkeys cried while the visitors took pictures. I couldn’t be there anymore and left the zoo. And I advise you not to go to any zoos, including the very famous Singapore Zoo.

Advertising campaign from Acção Animal and Liga Portuguesa dos Direitos do Animal (LDPA).

Dancing Bears

Have you ever heard or seen dancing bears in circuses or even on the streets? Do you know how people train them to dance? Of course, there are a lot of stories about cruel animal acts, but the story about dancing bears is one of the worst. So an animal tamer catches or buys a baby bear. Then a tamer puts the baby bear on a very hot surface—as hot as an iron turned on, and then the tamer plays music. A baby bear starts to shift from foot to foot so that it hurts not so much. After a while, a baby bear remembers that reflective action—when s/he hears music, s/he knows it will hurt and starts to “dance”.

This animal act was very popular in Balkan countries but was forbidden in 1998. Unfortunately, there are still small circuses or even street tamers who use “dancing bears”. Want to know more about that story? You can visit a recovery center for dancing bears in Bulgaria. Even bears lived here for decades still remember this acting, and start to dance when they hear music. 

Advertising campaign from Acção Animal and Liga Portuguesa dos Direitos do Animal (LDPA).

Elephant Rides

Everyone who has been to Thailand or other tropical South Eastern countries know about elephant rides. A lot of local entrepreneurs offer this amusement for tourists. It looks fun—an elephant is so big! For sure it’s easy for the animal to ride a couple of tourists. But unfortunately, it’s not true.

Of course, an elephant is a big animal. The weight of a typical Asian elephant is 3,000-5,000 kg. Nevertheless, an elephant’s back is not used to riding and lifting high weight. Riding a few people with all the equipment and elephant handler (or mahout) leads to serious diseases and disabilities for an animal. Moreover, according to a survey performed by Burnet Park Zoo in New York, it’s better to use adult animals for riding and lifting weights (at least 15 years old, perfect if an elephant is 25 years old). Of course, elephants’ owners don’t ready to wait 25 years to earn money from tourists and start to use baby elephants for riding.

The second thing is cruel animal acts. Elephant handlers hit baby elephants to bring them under control. But at the beginning of acting handlers do a very bad thing—they band baby elephant legs and drop the animal to a very tiny hole in the ground. They do everything they can to break the elephant’s behavior patterns. 

How can we stop it? For sure do not ride on elephants! No demands—no offers. For the last years, elephant rides were banned in India and Cambodia, but still, it’s not enough. Now the biggest population of acting elephants lives in Thailand (around 4,000 from 5,000 of all elephants living in the country are used in riding amusements). If you want to learn more about this problem, you can visit “Happy Elephant Home” in Chiang Mai, Thailand—a place where elephants injured by elephant handlers live and recover. And check a hashtag #elephantride on Instagram! It’s amazing how popular Social Media can contribute to stopping wild animals’ abuse!

Advertising campaign from Acção Animal and Liga Portuguesa dos Direitos do Animal (LDPA).

Worldwide Ban on Wild Animal Circus Acts

Currently, up to 46 countries banned on using wild animals in circus acts. Most of the countries are located in Europe and North and South America. Also, circus acts are banned in India, China (only in governmental circuses), Iran, Israel, Singapore, Taiwan, and Australia. In the US the full or “partial” bans work in 32 states, including New York, California, Florida, and Hawaii. You can find the whole list of the countries and the US states here.

The first country in the world implemented this kind of official ban was Austria. It happened in 2002—18 years ago! The first country that banned using whales and dolphins both for performing and amusement was Costa Rica. Moreover, in 2009 in India, all elephants performing in circuses or living in zoos were moved to national parks and reserves.

If a lot of countries understand that circuses with animal acts should be banned, the situation with zoos is not so understood. Still, there is no country in the world where zoos are banned. Some countries banned small petting zoos or buying wild animals as home pets. Almost all countries signed “The Convention On International Trade In Endangered Species Of Wild Fauna And Flora (CITES)”. But animals continue to suffer in zoos all over the world. Not every zoo can replicate the original landscape or climate for animals such as snowy lands, tropical jungles, or savannas. And even if you think that a zoo creates appropriate living conditions for wild animals, a zoo life destroys typical behaviors of them—they cannot migrate, choosing what to eat, finding partners. Moreover, wild animals have to contact with humans every day, while they prefer to escape these contacts in wildlife.

What we can do in this situation? First of all, we need to stop visiting zoos and circuses with animals. While that kind of performing and amusements are on-demand, circuses with animals and zoos will work, and animals will suffer. Also, you can sign petitions for banning circuses and zoos in your country. And I hope in decades, our children will be surprised and ashamed when they know about circuses and zoos, as we are ashamed now when we read about human zoos.