The Rapidian Home

Grand Rapids, it's time to send the circus packing

Elephants, lions and tigers are calling the Van Andel Arena parking lot home this week. But circuses are wrong, and it's time for the City of Grand Rapids and its leaders to look at model ordinances, and enact a ban on this horrific practice.
Elephants forced to sit...for what exactly?

Elephants forced to sit...for what exactly? /missmareck Flickr

As the city celebrates everything that is great about West Michigan during ArtPrize, a traveling sideshow of cruelty overshadows the festivities.  

Elephants, lions and tigers are calling the Van Andel Arena parking lot home this week. Before they pick up and leave town and head to another parking lot in another town, they will be forced to do tricks for an excited audience of children not yet old enough to understand the cruelty before them, and adults who should know better.

According to nonprofit group Born Free USA, these animals, whose in-the-wild-counterparts are dwindling each and every year, are forced to hit the road 11 months out of the year. Chained and caged between each stop, their only freedom is hardly real, and only during show times and training. Beaten and whipped so they can learn tricks like "sit," electric prods let them know when they aren’t learning fast enough. This is a far cry from their natural born lives, where these highly social animals roam as much as 25 miles a day.

I had the pleasure (and discomfort) of seeing the new documentary Blackfish at the UICA last week. The film expertly describes the horrific punishment inflicted on the majestic orcas during their sad lives in captivity. Their brains, more developed than our own, feel more emotion which makes life in a bathtub that much more sadistic. Should we then be surprised that these animals turn on their captors? Animals in zoos often “snap” as well. Elephants who simply can’t take it anymore have been known to break free from their captivity and go on a rampage. At that point the only solution is to brutally kill the once dignified creature. How many of those scenes must take place before we accept the cruelty before us and demand change?

On top of it all, our local paper calls it the best thing to do of the week (a move I can only assume was driven by advertising dollars). Our local library, a place one would hope to be a stronghold of critical thinking and enlightened thought actually promotes this bizarre bazaar each year! More of us should be standing up for what is right.

Banning this practice from our city borders would make Grand Rapids a leader in the nation on this issue, but we wouldn’t be alone. Born Free USA is tracking a growing number of towns and cities that have come to the realization that wild animals are in fact wild. These cities have realized that animals are not meant for our entertainment, and they don’t belong in the backs of 18-wheelers, being shipped from town to town.

I beg the City of Grand Rapids and its leaders to look at model ordinances, and enact our own ban on this horrific practice.

Can we all agree that we have enough spectacles in Grand Rapids this time of the year?

Let’s send the circus packing for good.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.


This circus is awful. Go to Cirque Du Soleil; they don't use animals and they produce far more enjoyable shows, as far as acrobatics and artistry goes. I was amazed at how few people went to their show 'Quidam' when it came by last year.