When you find yourself in the same place at the same time as you were exactly a year ago, it can really give you pause to realise how much has changed and how much hasn’t.

It was around this time last year that I organised my first protest against the use of animals in the Lennon Bros Circus, set to perform at Cahill Park in Tempe, a suburb of Sydney.

I had attended protests before, but this was my first shot at organising my own for this particular evening. The daytime protest clashed with my cousin’s second birthday party and I was keen to continue the campaign.

I wasn’t the only one attending a kids’ birthday party that day, although I wasn’t to find out about Anthony Sharwood’s encounter with my fellow protesters until that evening; and again as I found myself in the Animal Liberation office by chance at the same time as Anthony’s phone call to Lynda Stoner.

Flash forward a year later, and a lot has changed, but then again, a lot hasn’t. I find myself once more organising protests for Animal Liberation NSW outside the circus at Tempe, once a volunteer but now a member of staff. The circus has changed, from the Lennon Bros to Stardust, but the owners have not. These two circuses, both owned and operated by the Lennon family, are amongst the very few with exotic animals left in Australia.

The protests continue, but they have changed too. Every circus protest by Animal Liberation since last year’s unfortunate clash has been organised and presided over by myself, with a particular view to avoiding another “Sharwood Situation”.

Two things you will never find at one of these protests: a megaphone, why shout at people going in when you can engage with them one-on-one? And targeting children, because this kind of desperate tactic is best left to fast food chains, sugary breakfast cereals and the circus. When someone calls you out on poor behaviour, it’s reasonable to re-examine yourselves and adjust your approach accordingly, rather than try to save face.

It’s unfortunate for the animals in their care that the Lennon family have not adopted the same attitude. One year later, and many things are exactly the same. These animals are still living in captivity and forced to perform, spending their days alongside major roads in miserable enclosures, with little stimulation or ability to exhibit their natural behaviours, still moved from town to town in cramped conditions.

One year later and the monkeys can still be witnessed pacing back and forth in their treeless cages out of anxiety.

One year later, and the Lennons still offer the same excuses and arguments, rather than re-examine the real needs of the animals they claim to care for as “family”. As far as Jan Lennon is concerned, if you give an animal a big enough box to sit in and the occasional treat, it has adequate welfare.

It is true that their enclosures may exceed the standard set in the Exhibited Animals Protection Act, but in consideration of several studies that conclude circus life can never be suitable for a wild animal, the specific size of an enclosure seems pithy for an animal used to roaming several kilometres a day.

Their domesticated animals are not much better off either, and if the definition for “treated like family” includes ponies being roped to trucks in one spot for several hours while it pours with rain, or three dogs sharing a space barely appropriate for one, churned into mud over a week of inclement weather, then it should be no surprise that most people now reject a performing animal circus as decent “family” entertainment.

“When animal activists attack!” was a timely reminder that passion is best directed into constructive methods of discourse, a message I pass on to anyone attending a protest with Animal Liberation NSW. When circus animals attack it is not out of passion but fear, anxiety or desperation, and the consequences tend to be far worse than a bit of bad publicity, such as the six-year old boy in Brazil who was torn apart by lions in 2000.

When Geoffrey Lennon was attacked by three lions in 2001 the circus claimed to have “no idea” why they would do that. Because, Mr. Lennon, these are wild animals with wild instincts and do not belong in the circus. I recommend a little reflexivity of your own, because one year from now I really hope not to be having this same discussion.

However, if you come back without the animals, I’ll gladly take my cousin for his fourth birthday to see the human performers. Who knows, I may even run into Mr. Sharwood dropping his daughter off for her friend’s birthday party.

Most commented


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    • Nilbog says:

      07:12am | 03/07/12

      Do they still have the Moscow Circus? The one where the bear comes out riding the motorbike?

      That one was awesome.

    • M says:

      07:34am | 03/07/12

      Circus’ are a relic of a past age. It’s sad to see them go, but on the other hand I’m against keeping lions, tigers and bears caged up all the time. It’s time to move on.

    • Louie the Fly says:

      07:47am | 03/07/12

      Got to say, up here in Townsville - 11 degrees this morning - the wild chihuahuas are happy to be not only caged, but smothered as well. 
      I CANNOT get them out from under all the bed covers.
      Verbal abuse (telling them they are whimps), bribery (treats), attempted forced removal (reaching in under the covers to lift them out) have all faiied. 
      Sometimes it’s best to let the animals make their own choices

      NOTE - no chihuahuas were hurt in this performance!

    • L says:

      01:17pm | 05/07/12

      Hahaha excellent!

    • Mahhrat says:

      07:54am | 03/07/12

      @Phillip:  Do you support zoos?  I get the argument that a cage is no place for a wild animal, but then neither is extinction.  A zoo at least has room to move and proper veterinary care and whatnot.

      I think I’d rather see the masses that’d like to see a lion able to do so in a safe enclosure than have so many people trouncing through their real habitats, but I’m interested in your opinion.

    • Jay says:

      10:14am | 03/07/12

      I’m only surprised there haven’t been more lion attacks, given mankind’s propensity for not understanding the nature of the beast and sheer stupidity into trying to turn a wild animal into a domesticated plaything.

      The clip @10, the ‘keeper’ shouldn’t be in charge of a goldfish. Fancy bringing a stranger in to a large,powerful territorial animal’s enclosure. The keeper was playing a potentially deadly game of show off for the cameras, the moron. It was lucky the lion was still deciding to up the ante from testing the guy out to not being matrue or experienced enough to go into kill mode.
      The zookeeper going in with food, a mistake, but that was horrific to watch that. Did he make it out alive?
      As for the rest, especially the hunter and circus acts (and the “I have a pet lion on a lead ” dickhead), well what can you say, dicing with death with an animal that should never be keptn or interacted with like that.
      Circus’s only keep going because they have a paying public, if the public makes a decision not to go, then so ends the circus.  Unfortunately a lot of the public are blissfully ignorant when it comes to all things animals these days.

      I will agree, quietly talking too the ,public and giving handout leaflets with some factual and eye opening information, is a far better approach then any in your face one. People tend to listen when they’re talked too, not at.

    • PJ says:

      10:20am | 03/07/12

      A Circus is no place for animals.

    • chuck says:

      10:53am | 03/07/12

      The way the planet is increasing its numbers with upright “chimps” including Phil there will be no animals left to survive in circuses anyway !

    • Cubicle Monkey says:

      10:58am | 03/07/12

      “little stimulation or ability to exhibit their natural behaviours, still moved from A to B in cramped conditions… still be witnessed pacing back and forth in cages out of anxiety.”

      Sounds like my typical work day…

    • andrew says:

      11:41am | 03/07/12

      circuses have animal performers since they can pay them a lot less than human performers. I recently went to see cirque du soleil ( french circus - no animals ) but with ticket prices of around $100 each it’s not something everyone can afford to take a few kids to. I would agree with a ban on exotic animals in the circus and replace them with dogs, cats, horses birds etc - without any animals most circuses would cease to exist

    • BS says:

      01:05pm | 03/07/12

      Any society that believes it is acceptable to keep animals in perpetual imprisonment and transportation and force them to repeatedly perform degrading and unnatural acts for the idle amusement of moronic and callous human beings - such performances being induced by punishment with bullhooks and whips - has no claim to being humane, civilised or enlightened. Circuses belong to the barbaric past of animal abuse. (http://www.animalcircuses.com)

    • BS says:

      01:06pm | 03/07/12

      imprisonment and transportation and force them to repeatedly perform degrading and unnatural acts for the idle amusement of moronic and callous human beings - such performances being induced by punishment with bullhooks and whips - has no claim to being humane, civilised or enlightened. Circuses belong to the barbaric past of animal abuse.

    • TigerStripes says:

      01:45pm | 03/07/12

      It is nice to see so many people wholeheartedly agree on this animal welfare topic, It makes me feel like maybe that our animals (and those that are kept in this country for whatever reasons) have a chance at a good life hopefully now, and in the very near future. Every day i wake up to seeing animals tortured or abused in some way due to my work with animal welfare and it scars me each time. To see that so many actively abhor animal mistreatment makes me feel there is some hope. The more active people are, even in the smallest way (even signing a petition CAN be helpful) the better.

    • juliar 3rd says:

      02:02pm | 03/07/12

      is it the zoo or the cemetery for wild life?
      is it jail or the brothel or the graveyard for human animals?

    • Get real says:

      02:01pm | 04/07/12

      These are wild animals that belong in their natural environment where they are able to express natural behaviours; a circus cannot meet these needs. Also in the case of lions and elephants, they are potentially very dangerous and can “snap”, as has happened many times in America

    • Sharon says:

      08:01pm | 04/07/12

      Well said Phillip.

      The entertainment value derived from a performance depends entirely on which side of the cage, stick or chain you are on.

      “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons.  They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”  ~Alice Walker

    • lisa philip says:

      10:21am | 10/07/12

      If the human race respected animals, they would not put them in circuses and mistreat them just to make a dollar. Legally ban the use of animals in circuses, and stop makings fools of ourselves and the animals who have no choice, in whether they want to ” Run away and join the circus.”


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