Vietnam circuses accused of animal abuse

By Viet Tuan, Dang Khoa   June 9, 2018 | 03:57 pm PT
Vietnam circuses accused of animal abuse
A beer is put in a cycling circus performance in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Vietnam's Central Circus
Animal welfare organization calls for total ban, circus federation defends ‘long-standing tradition.’

The use of wild animals in Vietnamese circuses is cruel, sends wrong messages to children and should be stopped, international activists say.

However, industry insiders respond that the use of such animals in the circus has been a long-standing tradition that will take time to change.

In a letter addressed to the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Ngoc Thien last month, the Asia for Animal Coalition (AfA) said 19 different animal species were languishing in harsh conditions, not fed properly, suffering animal abuse behaviors and living in fear.

The AfA describes itself as being "composed of 19 well-known and respected animal welfare organizations that have a shared focus on improving the welfare of animals in Asia." Its letter asked authorities to punish circuses for using animals on the IB list, a group of endangered and critically endangered animals, and called for blanket ban on all wildlife in circus performances.

Ton Toan Thang, Deputy Director of Vietnam Circus Federation (VCF), said that the description in the letter was "exaggerated." He said the VCF carefully regulates the use of wild animals in circus performances.

He told VnExpress that animal circus performance was a tradition that has lasted for more than 60 years and had brought joy to many generations.

But he also added that the VCF was willing to switch from wild animals and substitute them with pets for performances in the future.

"In the past, VCF has successfully used pets like cats, pigs, goats, chicken, and others. In the future, we will remove wild animals and substitute with human performances wearing those animal costumes."

He also said that the obtained by AfA might not be from VCF, but a privately owned circus.

"Animals of the Circus Federation are living in good condition and being taken good care off in order to give their best performance on stage," he said.

Thang claimed further that circus animals saw human performers as their best friend both on and off stage, so "the animals voluntarily followed instructions. Not by force."

Not for kids

After the news about the letter broke, people reacted with anger and disappointment.

"I think we should eliminate animal circus performances and let the animals live freely in nature," one reader wrote to VnExpress.

"I used to take my kids to see animal circus performances, but not anymore. If you have the chance to go back stage, you will see the terrible conditions these animals are living in. This (the circus) both physically and mentally damages these animals," said another reader.

Khuat Thu Hong, Director of Institute for Social Development Studies and a long time opponent of animal circuses, asked parents not to take their kids to such shows, because it was not the animals’ natural instinct to mimic human actions.

"After seeing wild animal circus performances, kids will think they can do whatever they want to them," Hong said.

However, Hoang Minh Khanh, president of a circus institute in Vietnam, shared that performers and circus owners legally followed authorities’ guidelines on feeding, nurturing and training wild animals.

"The living conditions in a circus might be even better for wild animals than living in the wild," he said.

"Circus animals are our friends, so I don’t believe any claims of animal abuse behavior that AfA has described," Khanh said.

Nguyen Viet Hung, who performs with animals, said he does not believe that performers treat wild animals cruelly.

"The first rule to train an animal is to treat them as your friend," Hung said.

"One time, I yelled loudly at my dog and it did not listen to me the next day. So I had to give it a ride around the city so we could continue to be partners on stage."

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