Although the issues regarding circus cruelty have gained much-needed attention in recent years, circus animals still suffer from lives of confinement, social deprivation and violent methods of training.
In many circuses, animals are trained through the use of intimidation and physical abuse. Former circus employees have reported seeing animals beaten, whipped and denied food and water, all to force them to learn their routines. Animals are taught that not obeying the trainer will result in physical abuse. In the United States, no government agency monitors animal training sessions.
Traveling from town to town is also inherently stressful for circus animals—they are separated from their social groups and intensively confined or chained for extended periods of time with no access to food, water, and veterinary care. It’s no surprise that many animals suffer psychological effects. Swaying back and forth, head-bobbing and pacing are just some of the stereotypical behaviors associated with mental distress displayed by animals in the circus.
Public Safety Concerns
Animals in circuses are also a threat to public safety. There have been hundreds of incidents involving circus animals attacking and escaping—often resulting in property damage, injuries and death.
Furthermore there is a risk of disease. Some elephants used in circuses have been found to carry a human strain of tuberculosis, which can be easily passed on to humans.
ASPCA in Action
In the year 2000, the ASPCA—along with The Fund for Animals, Born Free USA and the Animal Welfare Institute—filed a federal lawsuit against Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The lawsuit contended that the circus's treatment of its Asian elephants violates the federal Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, on December 30, 2009, the case was decided on behalf of the defense (Ringling's owners, Feld Entertainment) based on lack of standing of the plaintiffs.
Read the ASPCA position statement  on animals in circuses.