The resumption of summer tours has been very difficult this year for animal circuses. Rejected by cities, despised by associations, they had to fight to perform here or there. An enchantment that regrets Arnaud Tanquerel, first deputy mayor of Bayeux (Calvados), responsible for the environment, sports, youth and leisure. He is also president of the Bayeux International Circus Festival and fights for the preservation of traditional circuses.
What difference do you make between traditional circus and contemporary circus?
I do not like these boundaries between the one and the other. I think there is only one circus. The acrobat who makes a somersault mortality, either he lands correctly, or he breaks his face, whether he works in a so-called traditional circus or in a so-called contemporary circus. It’s like when you play football: Whether it’s amateur or professional, you always kick the ball. Maybe that’s the way we want to bring a certain amount of reflection, of aesthetics … That’s where a boundary goes, with one circus more accessible than the other. I’m attached to these two types of circus, but I do not like the term “traditional circus”. It’s a dusty circus, a circus from before that has not evolved. So I prefer to talk about classic circus. In the world of dance today, you have these beautiful classical dance schools that are far from clichés. The classic circus should, in my opinion, be a traveling circus that does not close the door on dressage. A circus that retains its round ring, which allows you to enter into a community with the artists and the audience.
Why did you accept a wildlife circus this summer in Bayeux?
For one can not be radical from one day to the next. I have known the classic circus well for years: I have been gravitating around large peaks in France and Europe since I was 15, and I will soon turn 40. There are very skilled professionals who know how to work with animals and others, who do not have know-how and have not followed the legislative developments introduced in recent years. It should be noted that France is undoubtedly one of the countries in the world that has one of the most regulated laws regarding the detention and presentation of wild animals in traveling glasses: it requires a certificate of capacity, provided by the Ministry of the Environment, a certificate of opening and regular animal health monitoring. And then there are a number of studies that are not talked about enough, which show that when the conditions are met and you are dealing with professionals who know their animals and are connected to them, then roaming is not a problem, provided, of course, that a certain number of points are respected.
Take the elephant, for example in India, one of its countries of origin: it is a pack animal. The Indians worked with them for millions of years when we used oxen and horses.
Today we start with other considerations of animal welfare, but again the actions with animals have changed: There were previous actions with aggression, whereas the trainers today seek to emphasize the relational, the complicity that can be between man and animal . on the basis of play and a form of education. And that does not mean abuse.
The next Bayeux Circus Festival that you President will be held in March 2022. Maybe with wild animals. “You’re not banning anything,” you say. Even if it means going through demonstrations by animal welfare associations?
Absolutely. What is the next step in these associations? Not more animals in the circus at all? I understand the poll, which shows that two-thirds of French people no longer want to see wild animals in circuses. But after years of stating that these animals are being abused in circuses, we inevitably get polls in that direction. And the problem is that the French circus is not connected enough to show a reliable contradiction.
I think there is a France with two speeds. And the same is true of many other topics. There is the rural and there is the urban. And today, in rural areas, there is less of this desire to organize and harm circus establishments with animals. For in this environment there is another approach with animals. I’m well placed to know: I live in Normandy, where there is this culture of horses and dressage.
And I would bet that once wildlife is banned in the circus, then we move on to zoos, which some associations already have in their sights. Then we will move on to horses in equestrian centers and in events such as medieval shows, pony rides at fairs … We are exaggerating the animal cause. I do not think it is a good solution to split, ban all the time.
The people I met and who saw the big cats in a circus in Bayeux this summer were thrilled to see the trainer’s way of working. Because he takes the time to explain how he educates. He shows his way of working. And that does not happen with barbaric methods. Yes, abuse has existed, unfortunately it still exists, but we must not generalize: there are lots of circuses in France and Europe, which are big names in this field and which some veterinarians know very well. Unfortunately, we can not get these professionals to be heard. It’s a shame.
You mentioned a study published in 2019, conducted by animal protection NGOs, with Opinion Way. The survey reveals that 65% of respondents say they “unfavorable“ to the presence of wildlife in circus performances. Can’t you see this public aversion to animal circuses?
Not at all ! The proof: this summer in Bayeux, Zavatta put on twelve performances over two weeks. It’s a small structure. They attracted a total of 3,000 spectators, in a city of 14,000 inhabitants. This means that every fifth inhabitant has come to the circus. And yet there were wild animals. As an elected representative, I do not know of any other traveling, popular shows that in ten days’ time will attract as many spectators, and which, incidentally, do not cost society anything.
I apologize for this split. Nothing is gained by banning all the time. We must stop always wanting to give reason to minorities! In general, by the way. But for a number of years we have been saying “yes” to minorities too easily, and I am not convinced that society will grow out of it. The movement of the yellow vests was a reflection of this: it is all very divisive: we are imposed mass-cultural events, in large halls, like Zenith, we are imposed distractions in large amusement parks, while there are no more carnivals in small and medium-sized cities . But what people want to see again is the culture of proximity. And I think the traveling circus still has its card to play. If we lose it, we lose a culture of closeness.