Animal rights activists picketed as the McLaren Circus rolled into Cape Town as the show, one of the only circuses, still includes animals performances by lions, camels, horses and dogs.
On Saturday afternoon, a group of 100 protesters gathered outside the big top in Muizenberg with placards which read, “the circus is NOT fun for animals” and "you get to go home afterwards, the animals get a cage“.
On the other side of the road, people were queuing to enter the circus. The McLaren Circus confirmed that more than 350 people attended the afternoon show with more than 100 tickets purchased for the evening.
The protest was organised by animal rights organisation, Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC) SA.
BWC chairperson Toni Brockhoven said they wanted to create public awareness about how important it is that animals were freed from the circus.
“Ther animals are kept in cages, especially the wildlife. Animals can go to a sanctuary and live out their lives naturally,” she said.
“There should be no human interference or interaction with wild animals unless medically necessary,” she added.
Public relations spokesperson for Mclaren Circus, Karl Hildebrandt, said that BWC has selective empathy regarding circus animals.
“They seem to show more concern about one species than the other, when their mission is aimed at animals, is this not contradictory?”
“What is natural for any animal born in captivity? Our beautiful animals are hand-raised in the circus environment and this lifestyle has become their ‘natural’.”
“Because our animals are captive-bred they would never experience the “wild”. They are fully dependent on us humans to protect and care for them. We have a retirement facility in Meyerton, Gauteng where we already house our retired circus animals.”
Brockhoven said they were not fighting the circus but for the right of the animals.
“The circus keeps saying the lions and tigers are only partaking in the show for three or four minutes of a two-hour-long show, if that is the case, you don’t need to use them,” she said.
She added: “We are against the use of animals. Animals don’t belong in a circus. Kids learn nothing about an animal through watching them in a circus.”
“There are so many options for entertainment and learning. We are against the exploitation of animals for human benefit, especially because there is no need to exploit them.”
Brockhoven said there’s no use to keep animals in a cage all year round.
“If we struggle to control kittens at home, how difficult is it to care for a lion in a cage? I’m not saying they abuse their animals but I am asking how is it possible?”
Chairperson of the Cape Animal Welfare Forum, Karen de Klerk said South Africa needed to get on par with what the rest of the world about circuses.
“The world is systematically banning the use of wild animals in circuses. It is an archaic mediaeval activity,” she said.
She added: “It is disrespectful and cruel towards the instincts of the animal. As a compassionate nation that cares about the suffering of others, we should never condone this.”
De Klerk said it was wholly unacceptable to incarcerate any animal, especially a wild animal.
“You can’t do that and expect it to do stupid, mindless tricks for the entertainment of children. This teaches them all the wrong ideas about having respect for animal lives,” she said.
“These animals travel for kilometres for days at a time in hot, smelly, oily and dirty conditions. They cannot escape and it’s unacceptable on many levels,” she added.
Hildebrandt in response refuted this claim, stating that they managed their travel times to suit the animals.
“We ensure distances between towns are short, to ensure our animals have plenty of time spent outside their transport trailers,” he said.
“Our travel times are either early morning, or early evening, when the weather is cooler. Our transport trailers are also specially designed to ensure they are always cool.”
The SPCA said the McLaren Circus did not receive a permit that was required for animal keeping.
Chief Inspector of the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, Jaco Pieterse, said a specific permit is required in terms of the animal keeping by-law for any establishment to exhibit or place animals for show within the City of Cape Town.
“An Inspector authorised in terms of section 8(1) of the Animals Protection Act 71 of 1962 must be consulted for comment and input by the City before any such permit is issued, which was not done in this instance,” he said.
He added: “This makes any permit issued in terms of the animal keeping by law invalid if any has been issued. The events permit the circus currently possess are issued in terms of other legislation and not the animal keeping by-law.”
Hildebrandt said they don’t believe the protesters truly care about the animals.
“During lockdown, when the circus wasn’t operational, no animal rights group reached out to find out about the animals,” he said.
He added: “This is a social gathering for them to promote themselves. They will do their thing and we will do ours. We entertain hundreds of locals who support us and who love the circus.”
Hildebrandt said law enforcement came to the circus and checked their permits.
“Everything is in order from our side, they were here and made sure of that,” he said.