The McLaren Circus will be arriving in East London on December 20 to perform the latest iteration of their widely popular show.
Families will no doubt flock to the showgrounds to witness their famous performances which will include clowns, acrobats, and much more.
However, another crowd will also be there to greet them upon arrival. Animal rights activists will be organising a protest of McLaren Circus during their stay in East London.
The protest will involve a number of animal rights organisations, such as Ban Animal Trading (BAT), Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC), Animal Liberation Collective (ALC) and the EMS Foundation.
As the last circus in the country to still use live animals, McLaren has drawn plenty of criticism from people who believe their treatment of animals to be less than satisfactory.
“Our stance is that all animals have inherent value and have the right to live their own lives free of human exploitation and abuse,” said BAT director Kathy Raffray.
“Circuses that use animals in their acts are exploiting these animals for financial gain, while making them perform tricks in an unnatural environment. Animals are not entertainment.”
Raffray also raised concerns over the negative effects on McLaren’s animals from a life spent on the road in small trailers and rest enclosures.
McLaren Circus has hit back at these accusations, accusing the protesters of hypocrisy and of even being against Tiso Blackstar media group, of which the GO! & Express is a part.
“They ‘fight’ [quotation marks by original author] a bigger cause than just circuses. They are against supermarkets that sell meat, leather products, horse riding, zoos, animal testing, etc,” said McLaren Circus social media and public relations officer Karl Hildebrandt.
“This is also very strange because a vast majority of the protesters standing outside McLaren Circus picketing, volunteer at zoos, they ride horses and still eat meat. Essentially, these animal rights activists are against the entire Tiso Blackstar group: you rely on businesses that sell animal products to advertise with you to sell their products.”
According to Hildebrandt, great care is taken by the circus to ensure their animals are treated well.
“Our animal trainers/ presenters adhere to the Performing Animal Protection Act and they are in the possession of a performing animals permit which is issued through the department of agriculture and fisheries.”
Handlers are also required to to obtain a wildlife permit from each province.
In addition, the circus is heavily monitored by the NSPCA during performances. Duncan McLaren insisted that the NSPCA has not found any evidence of animal abuse during their inspections.
“Ask the NSPCA why they haven’t shut us down?” he said.
However, the NSPCA is on record condemning the use of animals in circus performances. The organisation has released an official statement, available on their website, which declares their opposition to any use of animals in circuses or travelling menageries.
According to the NSPCA, “cruelty to animals is inherent in such displays”.
Hildebrand also admitted that the NSPCA would not vouch for McLaren Circus, given their opposition to the use of circus animals.
“The various SPCAs can only monitor and manage the conditions in which the circus animals are kept in terms of the Animal Protection Act,” said Raffray.
This act, she said, only stipulates the bare minimum animal welfare conditions must be met – access to food, water, shelter, and no blatant acts of cruelty.
The conflict between McLaren and animal rights activists has only escalated recently. In a series of WhatsApp messages and a phone call to the GO! & Express, McLaren accused activists of intimidating store owners into removing his posters from their shop windows.
Raffray denied the allegations, saying they frowned upon such tactics.
“Animal rights activists prefer to present the facts and educate the public around specific animal rights violations,” she said.
According to Raffray, activists engaged in a dialogue with the various businesses and presented their arguments against the use of circus animals to businesses.
“It would then be up to the business owners to decide whether they remove or keep the posters,” she said.
One of the screenshots sent to the GO! by Duncan McLaren, taken from the “Goodbye, Circus” Facebook page, confirms this. The post, which is still available on their page at the time of writing, says that posters were removed “with permission of business owners”.