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Humane Family Fun

Discover animal-friendly alternatives to zoos and circuses.

Family outings to the circus and the zoo are staples of childhood. Yet what happens under the big top or in the city zoo is anything but fun for the animals involved. Training methods that include beating animals with clubs and depriving them of food are well documented. Animals who live in zoos are often born and raised in captivity and live their lives in unnatural environments.

The Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour features performers age 10 to 18, but no animals. Photo courtesy Robert Sanson.

Many circus companies are proving that animal-free circuses are fun, safe and more humane alternatives. Here is a partial list:

  • Quebec-based Cirque du Soleil and Cirque Éloize eschew animals for artistic displays of dance, acrobatics, contortion, trapeze performances and juggling. These shows combine a simple plot line, universal “language” and original music to elevate circus performance to an entertaining and impressive art form.
  • Lazer Vaudeville brings juggling, lasers, magic, audience participation stunts, acrobatics, slapstick comedy and dance to small venues nationwide.
  • San Francisco’s Circus Center has entertained crowds of all ages for 30 years.
  • You can see 10 adults ride a bike at once, two women roller skate on a six-foot table, plus lots of pole climbing, plate spinning and hoop diving at the New Shanghai Circus in Branson, Missouri.
  • Every summer, talented performers age 10 to 18 from Circus Smirkus tour the Northeastern United States.
  • Find more animal-free circuses at

If the children in your life enjoy zoos, visit an animal sanctuary as a more humane alternative. Sanctuaries promote responsible and appropriate human behavior toward all animals. Unlike traditional zoos, sanctuaries do not breed animals in captivity for commercial purposes, but rather rescue them from unfavorable living situations. They also rescue animals who were orphaned or injured in the wild. In fact, many sanctuaries take in zoo animals when they become old and ill and can no longer be cared for properly in the zoo environment.

Visitors to sanctuaries will often find many of the same animals that inhabit traditional zoos, such as primates, tigers and bears, and some they might not expect, such as feral pigs and wolf-dog hybrids. To find a sanctuary in your area, visit The Association of Sanctuaries.

Farm animal sanctuaries and shelters are another source of education and entertainment. They provide life-long care for cows, pigs, chickens, lambs and other animals once used for food production. Find a farm animal sanctuary.