Claws out over circus

People voice their opinions, holding up posters at the protest in Table View on Saturday February 4.

Under the big top, in a caged ring, the huge sleek animals, three tigers and two lions, docilely sit on raised perches awaiting commands from trainer David McLaren, the owner of McLaren Circus.

Mr McLaren playfully entices the big cat to perform a trick and it readily obliges.

A Bengal tiger pulls a piece of meat off an extended pole and chomps it down.

Mr McLaren is just a metre away from the trained animals and the audience of about thousand, parents and children, sitting on the other side of the bars.

There are plenty of oohs and aahs and much enthusiastic applause.

It’s the start of the show, and just minutes earlier, a few hundred metres from the circus site at the Table View Football Club, about 170 animal lovers lined the corner of Blaauwberg Road and Pentz Drive in protest against the use of animals at the circus.

Organised by Beauty without Cruelty, the protesters held anti-animal cruelty placards, some wearing animal ears and faces, one even clutching a large toy tiger.

Traffic between 2pm and 3pm, when the show started, was busy at this major Table View intersection and the shouts and chants of the demonstrators appeared to be met with support with hoots from passing cars.

Mr McLaren has been taking the circus around the country for the past 12 years. He bought the big top from the former Boswell Wilkie’s Circus.

It arrived in Table View after a stint in Stellenbosch and is in the suburb for two weeks.

There is a laager of caravans, animal enclosures and food stalls around the big top.

There was a protest in Stellenbosch last week as well, and Mr McLaren concedes there is likely to be one wherever his circus goes.

“They’re all on about wild animals in the circus, but these animals were born in captivity and they are not going to go into the wild. All we are going to argue is what form of captivity?

“It’s my own circus, and all the animals are well cared for. The SPCA was here and did a site inspection and they found nothing.

“Each time the protesters have something different to say. One year they criticised the training methods. This year they are saying it’s unnatural to keep animals like this. Of course, I agree that the most natural place for a wild animal to be is in the wild. But these animals, as I said, were born here.

“My question is, is it natural for a horse to run a race and then be put into a concrete stable?”

Mr McLaren maintains the circus revisits the same communities year after year. Following their run in Table View they will be setting up in Fish Hoek, and then Wynberg, among other locations on their current tour.

“It’s a legal event, and some people like it and some people don’t. Your readers can decide for themselves.”

Outside the circus, Jane Bramley, from Durbanville, tells Tabletalk, “I have come here to protest because I love the circus but without animals. They have no place inside a circus.”

Stefan Blume, who came from Oranjezicht, says, “These animals are not doing it for fun. They are tortured from a very young age; just like the show elephants in India. It’s the first year I am coming and what happens to these animals is they end up in pain as they can’t exercise naturally.

“They (the circus) is doing it for money. It’s not like training a dog by throwing a ball.”

Ryan Smith, from Sunset Beach says, “Slavery ended hundreds of years ago in this country, but why is this okay for animals? It’s really not okay – they are doing it for profit. Why can’t circuses exist without animals? They can change their methods – there are some talented people here, and they can do it (perform acts) without forcing animals to take part.”

Toni Brockhoven, national chairperson of Beauty without Cruelty, walks between the protesters and tells Tabletalk, “There is not a single welfare organisation that approves of this. Yes, the SPCA is mandated to come and check the animals are being treated correctly and make sure they are fed, but that is not the issue here. This issue is they shouldn’t be in the circus.”

Before the circus pitched its tent in Table View, the SPCA issued a statement saying it in “no way condones the use of animals, be they domesticated or wild, in the circus and appeals to the public to refrain from attending such events where animals are exploited for commercial gains”.

Also, the 26 NGO members of the Cape Animal Welfare Forum are drawing up a petition against the use of circus animals and they intend presenting it to local government.

Kenesias Dambakurima, of the Voices for African Wildlife organisation in Strand,helps children from poor communities understand life in the wild. He brought some children as well as his daughter, Nicole, to the demonstration to teach them that life in a cage is not a life at all.

“All the tricks they are taught are not natural. It is abuse. We are not here to protest that they are not being taken care of. These animals need to live in the wild.

“Desmond Tutu once said, ‘Freedom is not just for human beings, it’s also for the world’s sentient beings’. We have to fight for their freedom. In our organisation, we teach children about how to treat animals.”

Back at the circus, Mr McLaren says, “I feel we are a soft target. Of course no animal welfare organisation approves of this. But my question is why is the SPCA filled with abandoned animals. Maybe their owners should also be taken to task.”

Audience member Katerina Soundiades, from Blouberg, told Tabletalk after the show, “My take on this is, here at the circus, these animals must be viewed as pets. It looks as if they are well treated, cared for, even loved. The lions we saw are not used for example as they are in trophy hunting, and as far as I am concerned, the show is also educational for kids.

“This is the only life that these lions and tigers actually know. They came into this environment.”

* Animal cruelty can be reported to the SPCA at 021 700 4158/9 or 083 326 1604.

For copies of the petition against circus animals, contact the Cape Animal Welfare Forum at info@cawf.co.za