Like many parents, I took my young children to the circus. Beside them, I waited feverishly for a magnificent white tiger to appear on the track. During our vacation, we also visited animal farms or aquariums. But a few months ago, I saw camels, a zebra and caged cats near my house waiting to perform under a tent. Why did I ask myself that day whether it was still tenable to go to zoos or circuses?
Probably because today we are a little more concerned with animal welfare, a little less with our pleasure. According to a survey carried out by Ifop in February 2018 for the 30 million friends Foundation, 67% of French people (80% of whom are under 35) are in favor of banning wild animals in circuses. This is also the case for 400 cities (Ajaccio, Angers, Saint-Raphaël, etc.), which have taken a position to prohibit the installation of such circuses in their commune.
Veterinarians recommend banning wild mammals in circuses
“Taking children to the circus is disastrous from an educational point of view, goes so far as to say Florence Burgat, philosopher, director of research at INRA and activist for the animal cause (1). They see captive animals, who have never known what any individual aspires to, namely to deploy according to the physiological and psychological needs of his species. “
Circus advocates counter that the animal is protected and can reproduce. They also invoke this spark that lights up in the eyes of children at the sight of felines, elephants, and what it can bring to their knowledge of life … “But we push them to find normal and admirable behaviors obtained by training, like jumping in a flaming circle. Circuses convey a false image of animals ”, insists Florence Burgat. In 2015, the European Federation of Veterinarians bluntly recommended banning the use of wild mammals in traveling circuses because their physiological, mental and social needs could not be met.
To avoid all circuses with animals, is there not a risk of seeing certain capitals disappear? “The circus arts are not limited to the performance of numbers by wild animals, challenges Florence Burgat. To ban them would therefore not result in the loss of these structures. One could imagine putting the circus animals to retirement, in zoos transformed into sanctuaries. “
Between circuses and zoos, a real difference
But the question of whether or not to go to zoos also arises. “We cannot assimilate the animals that live there to those of circuses, defends Fabienne Delfour, ethologist and ketologist (2). Zoos have missions to protect animal welfare, conserve species and educate the public. “ How many vocations of veterinarians were born in front of a baby elephant or a panda? “Zoos also participate in programs to reintroduce animals into the wild. All things that are not the responsibility of circuses. This involves staff training and different animal treatments. “
What reassure those who love to walk the alleys of animal parks? Not completely, according to an investigation by the British animal welfare NGO Born Free for the Animal Code association. Out of 25 French zoos visited by her, breaches of the three missions had been observed. For example, only 17% of the total number of species present could be considered threatened. And “The majority of the enclosures observed were devoid of the environmental complexity necessary for their occupants to express normal behavior”.
Born Free’s observations date from 2009. Can we hope that the living conditions of the animals have improved since then? “The structures have made efforts to set up protected or set back areas so that animals can access them when they feel disturbed by human presence. Knowing that the latter is not always disturbing, underlines Fabienne Delfour. Scientific work assesses animal welfare species by species or individual by individual and confirms that, for all animals, the zoo is not systematically a place of suffering. What is missing is a general study that would measure the welfare of all zoo animals. “
Discover animals differently
In these cases, what is left to make an informed choice? The consumer visitor can also obtain information before taking their family: labels exist, such as Eaza (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums), a demanding organization, which sets ethical rules for its members and requires them to participate in conservation programs and with which a number of European zoos are affiliated.
A working group on the well-being of captive wildlife, launched by the Ministry of Ecological and Inclusive Transition, sent proposals at the end of 2019. They relate in particular to zoological parks, dolphinariums, circuses and traveling shows.
Perhaps we must also learn to discover animals differently. As Florence Burgat suggests, “There are very beautiful animals near us such as the fox or the deer. They can be seen in the countryside or in nature reserves with limited access. ” Another look at wildlife?