Mclaren Circus, the biggest in South Africa, landed in Knysna High School's field like a wedge between our community. On one side, there are those wishing to see wonder sparkle in their children's eyes (as it happened for them when they were a child) whilst the other, mostly white people, are screaming, "poor animals".
Mclaren Circus is no stranger to controversy, maybe more so for conflicts with public conscience than for 'direct' mistreatment of its animals. "Mistreatment" and "animal cruelty" have, over time, shifting definitions. In the past, fear would train animals whereas nowadays circuses have realised that positive re-enforcement works best. In the past, animals were malnourished and kept in very small cages whereas nowadays they're more likely to get exercise between travelling (lions laze about 20hrs per day in the wild) and, in the case of McLarens, look very healthy. And wild animals were almost like freak shows but in our modern times they are hand-raised i.e. they aren't wild.
My position was simple... until this week when many started asking my opinion and i was forced to reassess my views so that i could explain them. It left me feeling very uncomfortable.
I don't believe animals should be caged. I can live with aquariums for fishy education and rescue centres (e.g. Jukani) but can't handle zoos or dolphinariums (after watching the documentary 'Blackfish 2 weeks ago, i was devastated, feeling depressed for days). And dogfighting is a no brainer!
But am i a hypocrite? The empathy one feels towards animals is partly (or majorly) a result of one's upbringing and culture - cows, monkeys, rats and dogs are rarely all loved or revered within one area. Particularly, so-called Western civilization, has damaged the balance of nature by it's penchant for pets which are as much accessories and by-products of loneliness to some as they are family friends and guardians to others. This excessive and unnatural pet population damages the world through altering bird migrations, demanding more pet food which, in turn, means less farms for human consumption and an exaggeration of GM products etc.
How many of you in South Africa who yell for animal rights love to tuck into a good steak or piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken even though the industry is a torture mill. On average, we each eat 30kg of chicken, 9kg of egg and 24kg of beef annually. *
If you say you're a vegetarian for moral reasons then i have to use that word 'hypocrite' again because that's more to make you feel good than to help animals. After all, the dairy and poultry you consume is irrevocably linked to the meat industry. That poor cow that may be forced into a 4-year pregnancy for the sake of your cereal or milkshake might only escape it's painful confinement after it's legs buckle, forcing it into it's new career as a hamburger patty. According to SAPA (South African Poultry Association) figures, "in 2012 the poultry industry supplied 1.88 billion tons of poultry meat and 464 051 tons of hen eggs and egg product, totaling a staggering 2.35 billion tons." If you want the 'moral high ground', become a vegan.
If South Africa's millions of cattle and chickens had a say...what would they say?
The law of nature is that, cruel or not, the most vicious/successful animal wins. We are that animal. Do we want to stop the meat industry and have hundreds of thousands in South Africa go unemployed? Do you believe that animal trainers can love the animals they train? Do you teach your dog tricks and then show her off to your friends? Do you want animal trainers to lose their jobs?
And let's not forget the joy that circuses such as McLaren have given to tens of thousands of people. Should that come into the equation? Do they give more than they take?
As the Hermanus Times said, "The lions were one of the most memorable scenes, their roars echoed fear and excitement through the crowd as the glorious beasts snarled but still preformed their acts to perfection. Every act catered to different people, the clowns obviously stole the show with their humour and tricks, but I can honestly say there was not one show that I thought bland. The human chandelier was an act that left my mouth gaping, as a small Chinese lady managed to use her agile body to balance an array of 100 lit candles. All the animals and the performers were extraordinary and next year I will make sure we are seated in the front row again to view the circus from the best vantage point. It was entertaining 90minutes of pure enjoyment and surprises!"
It's been a circuitous route to making my point which is more questioning. Where do you stand? Do you yell for animal rights when it's easy or do you do it all the time?
Regards animal circuses, i've set up a poll to get your opinion. You can't be tracked so no need to impress any lobby group. Just be honest so that we know what people really think rather than what others make them feel they have to say.
I can't be your conscience but i can be mine. I'm going to still say "NO" to animals in cages (not even a budgie or a parakeet), refuse to see lions, dolphins and whales perform tricks... and, additionally, not have meat more than twice per week.
As a parallel, do you remember the story of John Rendall and Ace Bourke who bought a lion cub at Harod's in London. They eventually put him back in the wilderness but, for years, he was their pet, something few moaned about... but when they reunited many years later, and the lion remembered them, everyone sighed with wonder and happiness and few pointed out that he'd been their pet for years i.e. the public's opinion can be the result of presentation.
* Industry figures vary.