The human circus

During the making of YO GALGO, I have wondered a lot about the use of other animals in different shows, traditions and “sports”. That is why I went to a circus, to talk about this and the control of the instinct. Once there, we shot the scene “Bacalao among Tigers”. But don´t worry, things are not as they look like.

The scene will not appear in the documentary, but it makes a point. Dreams and nightmares are important assets to connect the different characters of the film. I must say that YO GALGO, at times, becomes a bit surreal and Bacalao wakes up in different parts of the story helping the story to move forward.


What you have just seen is an illusion. I would never put Bacalao in danger. I wanted the scene to reflect the danger galgos are exposed to when the hunting season begins, only luck will save them.



Since its creation the circus was always combined artistic dance, acrobatics, speech and music in a show that united drama and comedy. In any case circus started being places were corporal expression, the abilities and fantastic human skills of its performers were what constituted the central core of the show either in the Far East (China, India...), between Mayas and Aztecs, or in western civilizations (Egypt, Greece, Rome...)


The word "circus" comes from the Latin circus, which in turn comes from the Greek word Kirkos, which means ring or circle. They were, the Greeks, the ones who laid the principles and basic contents for the show that consisted in juggling, acrobatics, strongmen and dancers, but it was the Romans who put their stamp into the manufacturing of the modern circus with their megalomaniac shows in the Circus Maximus. The roman shows, made for the masses as a distraction, were populated with gladiator fights, chariot races and horses, they were public events that had an absolutely playful objective, entertainment for the people, release of tensions and a kind of "reward "or subconscious “blackmail” so the people would not complain about other realities (as in "give them bread and circuses" and you’ll have them forever). It was at this Circus Maximus where they began using animals as a recreational element, "wild beasts" that were announced as lethal and against which the gladiators would measure their strength and power.

During the middle Ages the moral authority then, the church, condemned the shows in which the body and human prowess were extolled in an attempt to turn people´s attention to the spirit. Then the circus became all about the exotic, the animals. Bears and monkeys trained mostly by Romany gypsies and travelers who visited the villages were at the core of what it meant to be a circus. The Renaissance recovered the joy of the storytellers, dancers and acrobats and added palmistry, comedy and clowns. Seeing the success of such combination of exoticism and beauty more and more animals were introduced to the show, creating a kind of circus that still remains today.

A different kind of show in circus history, called freak shows, deserves a special mention. Their theme was nothing more than the unscrupulous display of people and animals with terrible physical deformities. It was the development of the modern medicine and, of course, human rights ended almost completely those shows.


PHOTO: Stanley Kubrick

The law of circus

"Animals are living sentient beings who have rights that must be respected, which is one of the foundations of coexistence of species in the world". Universal Declaration of Animal Rights, adopted by UNESCO on October 27, 1978.

Despite being recognized the rights of animals by UNESCO, the truth is that in matters of legislation, in theory and in practice, the animals used in recreational shows seem to be helpless and in need of a new law.

What are stated in the CITES convention (International Trade of Endangered Species, Wild Fauna and Flora) created in 1963 and implemented in 1975, are the minimum conditions for the import, export and movement of protected species among member states with the order to ensure that wild endangered fauna and flora cannot be subject of international trade. There are also directives related to the protection of animals during transportation, which is detailed, for example: "you cannot transport animals if they are not in a proper position to perform the intended journey and if appropriate arrangements for their care during the journey and arrival at destination have not been arranged. Sick or injured animals shall not be considered fit for transport." But unfortunately we all suspect that this is not always done.

In Spain, the Criminal Code states: "Whoever, by any means or procedure, unjustifiably mistreat a pet or tamed animal, causing death or injury which severely damage its health, shall be punished with imprisonment from three months to one year along with the disqualification for three years for the exercise of a profession, trade or business that is related to animals". This, according to animal protection groups and NGOs, is not met in circuses working with exotic animals. There is also a lot of discussion about some training methods in circuses that should be subjected to this law.

According to a Royal Decree 1119/1975 of April 24th, for making a circus act in Spain you need to apply for registration in the general direction of agricultural production and you are obliged to comply with the general animal health measures (available conditioning, isolation, handling and feeding, cleaning and disinfection) and subject to the relevant inspections. The legal text has been expanded to increase the protection of animals and vetoes the "use of animals in spectacles that could cause them suffering, be mocked at or suffer unnatural treatments." Currently, in Spain more than 170 municipalities (especially in Catalonia, as in Belgium, Denmark, Portugal and Sweden) prohibit shows that include montages with animals, although it mostly applies only to the use of wild species, not domestic, and for Ecologists in Action the discussion of today goes "if pets should enter or not this prohibition."



Another problem with these public spectacles and their impossibility for meeting the basic needs of wild animals in captivity is that they are targeted to children. Circus construct a universe in which certain values are transmitted without us knowing it, dressed in fantasy and fun, which might not be the best ones for our kids.


With which animals do we permit to perform for us?

We don’t judge every animal the same way. A bear cycling seems more humiliating than a seal clapping; or a skilled dancer dressed dog seems less aggressive than a tiger lying with the belly up; Is it exploitation? And what about the greyhound? Some people call it animal sports. Is it a sport if the animal is performing activities close to what is natural to them?


In short, we believe that, even today, we need to review certain concepts and traditions such as animal shows and “sports”, which are realities that have been with us a long enough that may require modern laws.

Authors: Yeray López and Bárbara Vidal