While animal circuses may seem harmless at first glance – after all, what could be cuter than watching animals perform unusual tricks? – the reality is vastly different. While circus companies claim to care about the well-being of their animals, what animals endure to learn their tricks is not natural or healthy for the animals.

Animals kept in captivity commonly exhibit certain behaviors rarely if ever witness in their free-living brethren – behaviors like moving side-to-side, head-wobbling, and self-mutilation, all of which may point to their own mental distress. Circus companies have additionally been known to neglect or abuse their animals as part of the training process.

Elephants, for instance, are regularly beaten or stabbed if they fail to perform to trainers’ expectations. Just last month evidence of a Siberian tiger named Uno being abused at the hands of trainer Michael Hackenberger was uncovered.
It can be hard to understand just how much animals suffer in the circus, though, without images like the one below.

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The photographer, Chu Yongzhi, of the Zhejiang Daily Press, took this picture of a circus monkey cowering in terror as a trainer approached with a whip in hand.
Animal lovers can’t help but notice the monkey’s terror, nor the trainer’s indifference. Images like this, when combined with our actions, can help turn the tide, however, and many places are forcing change.
Countries banning the use of wild animals in circuses now include Cyprus, Greece, Peru, El Salvador, Paraguay, the Netherlands and many others. In the U.S., progress has been made in a number of states and cities – including Huntington Beach, Santa Ana and Los Angeles in Cal., as well as Margate, Fla., Dane County, Wis., and Fulton County, Ga. – but more change can yet be made.