Local and North American animal-rights advocates this week said Squamish residents should not welcome a circus that “has a two-decades'-long list of violations of various animal-related regulations” — even though no animals were to be used in this week's two Squamish shows.
Brian Vincent, a Squamish resident who heads a group called Stop UBC Animal Research, on Monday (Sept. 24) said that even though it was not slated to use exotic animals such as elephants during its shows at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park, Circus Gatti “has a long history of using and enslaving exotic animals in their shows.”
On Tuesday (Sept. 25), the U.S.-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called for a boycott of the Squamish shows.
“Life on the road — locked in a barren cage or a dark, cramped trailer, and forced to perform tricks — is no life at all for a wild animal,” Delcianna Winders, PETA foundation director of captive animal law enforcement, said in a statement.
“PETA is letting parents and grandparents know that if their children and grandchildren love animals, the last place that they should go is to this wretched circus.”
Vincent, who stressed that he was speaking only as a citizen, questioned the wisdom of booking two shows that were slated to occur Wednesday and tonight (Sept. 26 and 27) at the CN Roundhouse and Conference Centre.
“I understand that Squamish is trying to revitalize itself economically with different sorts of events such as bike races and such, and that's great, but not on the backs of animals,” he said.
“It's very unfortunate that in a town that prides itself on being compassionate toward animals that they would allow this to come here. This is an organization that has two-decades'-long list of violations of various animal-related regulations.”
Circus Gatti was founded in California in 1963 by Matthew J. Gatti as the American Continental Circus. It merged at some point after that with the Canadian International Circus to form Circus Gatti.
It has separate shows that tour in the U.S. and Canada and while elephants are featured in the U.S. shows, the company's website states, “Due to federal regulations there will be no exotic animals, including elephants, in Canada.”
Alejandro Mesa, spokesman for Orange, Calif.-based MJG Entertainment, Circus Gatti's parent company, on Tuesday (Sept. 25) said the two Squamish shows are the final ones on the circus's summer 2012 tour of western Canada. He said no animal acts will be used in the Squamish shows.
Ken Tanner, general manager of the West Coast Railway Heritage Park, said the two Circus Gatti shows were booked “the week before last.”
“I don't know the exact format, but they indicated that they comply with all of the Canadian and regional obligations with regards to animal welfare. I'm not familiar with the precise acts — I believe there will be dogs and I'm not sure what else,” Tanner said.
While Circus Gatti is allowed to use animals in its shows in Alberta, “It's getting really hard for us to bring the animals for the Canadian shows, especially in British Columbia because they're super strict with their regulations,” Mesa said.
“In Alberta, we can bring them… but we don't want to just bring them for a few days and then bring them back home, so we just keep them down in the States.”
Mesa said he thinks many animal-rights activists base their criticisms on practices that are now largely a thing of the past.
“That was, like, 10 or 20 years ago when we didn't have so many laws against animal abuse. We treat the animals well — they live better than us. We treat them like family,” he said.
A PETA-supplied list on Circus Gatti includes brief descriptions of 24 violations of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations, mishaps that occurred at shows and incidences of concerns raised by local authorities over the past 22 years.
The first item, from May 1990, mentions a report filed with the police in Palm Springs, Calif., allegedly “for mistreatment of elephants with electricity.” Other items on the list include USDA citations for failing to treat animals for various ailments, for problems with animal enclosures, and failing to provide USDA officials with access to the animals for the purpose of conducting animal-welfare inspections.
An item from May 2011 mentions a canine performer named Banjo that “had a fresh wound between two toes… causing him to limp,” and another named Zorro that “was limping because of a toenail that had been torn off four days earlier. The dogs' handler was unaware of Banjo's injury and stated that she didn't feel Zorro's injury required veterinary attention.” Animal services officials in Santa Cruz, Calif., ordered the handler to seek veterinary care for the animals, the item states.
The final item, from December 2011, mentions a USDA citation for failure to correct a problem with the perimeter fence for the circus's two elephants, which “could endanger the well-being of the animals and the public.”
Vincent forwarded a video clip to The Chief showing an elephant balancing on its hind legs, then on its front ones, both of which he described as unnatural acts that place the elephant at risk of serious injury.
While he said he couldn't say whether Circus Gatti trainers hit or inflict other sorts of pain to train their elephants, “to force them to do what they're being asked to do requires some pretty questionable practices,” Vincent said.
Asked whether any sorts of electric prods or bull hooks are used in the training of the circus's two elephants, Mesa said, “They trained those elephants a long, long time ago, and I don't know what they do now. Nobody can use the bull hooks and electrical devices now. We don't have any of that for them.”