Jorge267 via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-ND 2.0
Jorge267 via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-ND 2.0

Report Finds Circus Animals Are Denied Lives ‘Worth Living’

Jorge267 via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-ND 2.0
Jorge267 via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-ND 2.0

A new report commissioned by the Welsh government has concluded that traveling circuses fail to meet legal standards for animal welfare [PDF]. The researchers say there is ample scientific evidence to support a ban on the inclusion of wild animals in circuses and other traveling shows.

Lead author Steven Harris—who researches ecology and animal population management at the University of Bristol in the UK—and his colleagues Jo Dorning and Heather Pickett had been studying the ethics and practicalities of animal welfare for years when they were approached to write the report. The government wanted to know what the scientific literature had to say about wild animals in circuses, and whether major stakeholders like conservationists, zookeepers, lawyers, and animal trainers felt the same way. They were especially interested in learning if circuses and other traveling shows were consistently meeting the requirements set down in the UK's Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The researchers reached out to 658 experts and organizations around the world for feedback. The pool included 138 animal trainers and circuses (ATCs); 206 animal welfare–focused lawyers and veterinarians (LVs); 107 employees of related non-government organizations (NGOs); 144 scientists; and 58 staff members from zoos and wild animal sanctuaries. They sent all the participants the same questionnaires, which included questions about living conditions, signs that animals were healthy, and which practices were good or bad for animal welfare.

The results revealed a substantial gulf in opinions and beliefs, with ATCs and NGOs on one side and scientists, lawyers, veterinarians, and sanctuary staff on the other. ATCs in particular were more likely to believe that animal training (which frequently relies on violence and other negative stimuli) was not stressful for wild animals and that frequent transport from show site to show site was actually good for them. Scientists, veterinarians, and other animal experts disagreed.

Analysis of the questionnaire responses and scientific literature on the subject led the researchers to a number of troubling, yet unsurprising conclusions:

  • Wild animals’ “five freedoms” (freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal behaviors; and freedom from distress) are consistently “…compromised in travelling circuses and mobile zoos.”
  • “Traditional animal training methods are coercive and based on force and aggression,” and circus trainers “have few or no recognised qualifications or formal training.”
  • There was a lot of disagreement over the definition of the term “wild animal.”
  • ATCs were comfortable keeping animals in enclosures that averaged 26.3 percent of the size recommended by zoos.
  • The report found “…no scientific evidence that wild animals fully adapt to frequent transport.

Overall, the authors wrote, “Life for wild animals in travelling circuses and mobile zoos does not appear to constitute either a ‘good life’ or a ‘life worth living.’”

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8 Pro Tips for Taking Incredible Pictures of Your Pets

Thanks to the internet, owning a photogenic pet is now a viable career option. Just ask Theron Humphrey, dog-dad to Maddie the coonhound and the photographer behind the Instagram account This Wild Idea. He gained online fame by traveling across the country and sharing photographs of his dog along the way. But Maddie’s impressive modeling skills aren’t the only key to his success; Humphrey has also mastered some essential photography tricks that even the most casual smartphone photographer can use to make their pet look like a social media star.


Based on her Instagram presence, you’d guess Maddie is either in the middle of a road trip or a scenic hike at any given time. That’s no accident: At a pet photography workshop hosted by Adobe, Humphrey said he often goes out of his way to get that perfect shot. “You need to keep situating yourself in circumstances to continue making great work,” he said, “even if that means burning a tank of gas and going someplace you’ve never been.”


Dog and owner on a couch.

That being said, it’s important to know your pet’s limits. Is your dog afraid of flying? Then leave him with a pet sitter when you vacation abroad. Does your cat hate the water? Resist the temptation to bring her into the kayak with you on your next camping trip, even if it would make for an adorable photo opportunity. “One thing I think is important with animals is to operate within the parameters they exist in,” Humphrey said. “Don’t go too far outside their comfort zone.”


Not every winning pet photo is the result of a hefty travel budget. You can take professional-looking pictures of your pet at home, as long as you know how to work with the space you’re in. Humphrey recommends looking at every element of the scene you’re shooting in and asking what can be changed. Don’t be shy about moving furniture, adjusting the blinds to achieve the perfect lighting, or changing into a weird outfit that will make your pup’s eyes pop.


Two dogs in outfits.

Ella and Coconut Bean.

Trying to capture glamorous photos of a moving, barking target is a hard job. It’s much easier when you have a human companion to assist you. Another set of hands can hold the camera when you want to be in the picture with your pet, or hold a toy or treat to get your dog’s attention. At the very least, they can take your pet away for a 10-minute play session when you need a break.


The advent of digital cameras, including the kind in your smartphone, was a game-changer for pet photographers. Gone are the days when you needed to be picky about your shots to conserve film. Just set your shutter to burst mode and let your camera do the work capturing every subtle blep and mlem your pet makes. Chances are you’ll have plenty of standout shots on your camera roll from which to choose. From there, your hardest job will be “culling” them, as Humphrey says. He recommends uploading them to a photo organizing app like Adobe Lightroom and reviewing your work in two rounds: The first is for flagging any photo that catches your eye, and the second is for narrowing down that pool into an even smaller group of photos you want to publish. Even then, deciding between two shots taken a fraction of a second apart can be tricky. “When photos are too similar, check the focus,” he said. “That’s often the deciding factor.”


When it comes to capturing the perfect pet photo, an expensive camera is often less important than your cat’s favorite feather toy. The most memorable images often include pets that are engaging with the camera. In order to get your pet to look where you want it to, make sure you're holding something your pet will find interesting in your free hand. If your pet perks up at anything that makes noise, find a squeaky toy. If they’re motivated by food, use their favorite treat to get their attention. Don’t forget to reward them with the treat or the toy after they sit for the photo—that way they’ll know to repeat the behavior next time.


Person with hat taking photo of dog and dog food.

According to Humphrey, your pet’s eye should be the focus of most shots you take. In some cases, you may need to do more to make your pet the focal point of the image, even if that means removing your face from the frame altogether. “If there’s a human in the photo, you want to make them anonymous,” Humphrey said. That means incorporating your hands, legs, or torso into a shot without making yourself the star.


This is the mantra Theron Humphrey repeated throughout his workshop. You can scout out the perfect location and find the perfect accessories, but when you’re shooting with animals you have no choice but to leave room for flexibility. “You have to learn to roll with the mistakes,” Humphrey said. What feels like a hyperactive dog ruining your shot in the moment might turn out to be social media gold when it ends up online.


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