I was never taken to a zoo or a circus at a child - and still to this day have never been to either. Well, except to the outside of a circus on a local protest! Craig Redmond however WAS taken to both - however in the ensuing years these places came to disturb him so much that he has since become the campaigns manager for The Captive Animals Protection Society, a UK organisation that aims to create awareness about the cruelty of zoos, circuses, pet fairs and other areas in which animals lose their freedom and are exploited, with the ultimate objective being to close them all. Read on and you'll soon come to realise why this needs to happen - and why you should support CAPS in their work.
Shari Black Velvet: How many people are involved with/work for CAPS?
Craig Redmond: We have four paid staff but a great team of volunteer Trustees, consultants (such as vets and scientists) and a great band of supporters who help by writing letters, fundraising etc.
SBV: When did you first become aware of the cruelty that animals faced in places such as circuses and zoos?
CR: As I kid I was brought up to appreciate animals and being outdoors. We were always the family to take in any stray cats and dogs on the street and try and raise orphaned birds etc. But I also enjoyed visiting zoos although remember feeling uneasy about the bears kept in pit-like enclosures at my local zoo. My parents only ever took me to one animal circus, which I think only had horses - they didn't really like the concept of animals performing. It was in my early teens that I started to understand the cruelty of zoos and my mid-teens that I started being active against cruelty.
SBV: A lot of people go to zoos not realising there is a cruelty aspect to them. They just think it's 'cool' to see some different animals. Can you explain what it’s like for animals in zoos for people reading that don’t realise – just to give them more of an idea?
CR: I'm interested in why people visit zoos. I really don't think that most of them are interested in conservation or even in the animals, they just see it as a day out, especially if they have young kids. They will spend seconds, a few minutes at most, at an enclosure, mentally ticking off the species - lions, giraffes, chimps, etc - without much thought for the fact that these animals will spend their whole lives in this never changing, never expanding, space with people gawping at them, shouting, teasing, every day. If people just took some time to realise the animals are here summer and winter, year after year, and began to see what little there is to enrich their lives, they would see zoos in a different light. Zoos have been compared to a person spending their whole life in their living room with perhaps TV for an hour a day, no music, no computer games, nothing else to do. Many people now recognise obvious disturbed behaviours like a tiger pacing up and down and they quickly move on to the next enclosure as they don't want their day out spoiled by the sight of an animal going out of her mind.
SBV: Do you have any figures on people going to zoos or circuses? Have they risen or fallen over the last few years?
CR: It's true to say zoos are high up in the list of tourist attractions, heavily promoted by local councils, tourism boards etc. But more people are questioning the validity of them - not just from an animal rights or welfare perspective (ie. wild animals suffer in captivity and should be used just for our amusement) but also conservation (which is about protecting natural habitats not having animals in cages). Animal circuses are definitely on the decline, and the vast majority of circuses are now all-human shows. But we are still working hard to end animal circuses once and for all.
SBV: Obviously it would be best if there were no zoos. However if zoos had to exist, but you were able to dictate how they’d be, what would you make each zoo have, or how would the animals live inside them?
CR: CAPS calls for a phasing out of zoos. They couldn't all be closed overnight even if we had the power to do it. First we need the government to prevent new zoos being opened; an end to breeding of animals in zoos; then the phasing out can start. It will take a long time, there are over 400 zoos in the UK (everything from a farm park with some wild animals to major safari parks). In the meantime a complete change of attitude has to be the priority in deciding the conditions those remaining animals are in. It should not be about what's best for the human visitor (eg being able to see the animals all the time, meaning no privacy), but what's best for the animals. However, while it's important to improve conditions for those animals, we have to recognise that even with the best will we cannot provide everything a wild animal needs in captivity and improving conditions should not be used as an excuse for prolonging captivity, which is why we first need to help people recognise that zoos should not exist at all.
SBV: PETA has recently helped create more attention to the cruelty of circuses after filming some undercover footage from one circus, showing elephants being hit before going to perform. Has this helped the circus campaign much?
CR: Undercover investigations are vital in the animal protection movement. Most deliberate cruelty is now done away from public view so investigations are the only way of obtaining the evidence and is something CAPS has been involved with for many years. It definitely makes people think again and investigations have been essential in helping destroy the animal circus trade.
SBV: You’ve established an educational charity to work with teachers and students. What does this entail? Do you go into schools and give speeches? Or just send out DVDs to be watched? Do the schools contact you or do you contact them first?
CR: We have always done education work since CAPS was founded in 1957. Even our campaign work is about education. We set up the charity originally because CAPS itself could not get charity status because, like Greenpeace and other campaign groups, we worked for a change in the law which charities generally can't do. Our education charity produced materials for schools like lesson plans and we had volunteers doing talks to classes. Charity law guidance has now changed and CAPS finally got charity status which is great news, so we are now merging the two charities and CAPS will continue the education work. Every week we get contacted by teachers and students for information and we send them free packs including our films.
SBV: Can you tell us about the ‘No Place Like Home’ DVD? What sort of footage is on there?
CR: 'No Place Like Home' is our new film looking at zoos. We filmed it all over the past 2 years in UK zoos, including some of the best known. It really shows how animals live miserable lives - birds unable to fly in small cages, elephants with disturbed behaviour rocking from side to side, a gorilla regurgitating his food and eating it, over and over again. We interview scientists about animal behaviour and why zoos are actually damaging conservation efforts and to our supporters. The film also explains how people can help end animal cruelty. It's not an overly 'gruesome' film, so is ideal for anyone who is already questioning zoos or even die-hard zoo supporters - it should leave everyone thinking something has to change. This is the state of UK zoos here and now.
SBV: There’s a great interview with Jay Kay (Jamiroquai) on your site that everyone ought to read. He’s become a patron for CAPS. How did that come about?
CR: We've always had a good mix of people becoming patrons, including politicians and scientists. One of our brilliant active supporters suggested we approach Jay Kay as he has been very outspoken about animal cruelty in circuses. He was more than happy to support us. Our supporter and one of our Directors met Jay Kay at his house and did the interview. Jay Kay was particularly keen to support our work against zoos as well as animal circuses and said he really liked how we were a small grass-roots charity. Having patrons like Jay Kay not only raises our profile in the media but he has a massive fan base who are also supportive of our work.
SBV: CAPS is naturally involved in stopping all forms of captive animal situations. You’ve campaigned against pet fairs and investigated the aquaria industry. What have been some of CAPS major achievements over the years?
CR: We were the first organisation to do undercover investigations of pet fairs (where wildlife is traded from makeshift events in the UK) and, working with other organisations, we helped secure a ban. We also conducted the world's first study of animal welfare in aquaria (public aquariums in the UK), exposing not only the previously unrecorded deaths and suffering of fish and other animals but how, for example, 79% of all animals in aquaria are taken from the wild. Since 1957 our main focus has been to end animal use in circuses, and although we're not quite there with a ban yet, I feel our biggest achievement has been in turning around public and political opinion on this. In 1957 every circus had animals, now hardly any do. But I think we have also shown how people can be kinder and more sympathetic to animals in general and how each and every one of us can make small changes in our lives that make big positive changes to the other animals we share this planet with. We've had loads of small but significant achievements along the way, like persuading over 200 councils to ban animal circuses from their land, encouraging companies to stop using animals in adverts etc. Our supporters have played an important role in these.
SBV: What do you advise people to do instead of going to a circus, zoo or any other place that used animals for entertainment or has animals in captivity?
CR: Pretty much anything! Learn to play and instrument, read a book - anything is better than supporting animal cruelty! If you want a real experience with animals get outside and do it - wildlife is all around us: birds in the garden, spiders in the kitchen, foxes and deer in the woodland. The UK provides some of the best wildlife experiences in the world, whether we live in the city or countryside. Even whale and dolphin watching is brilliant here. Local wildlife groups are the best source of information. And if you want some Big Top entertainment, our website lists the all-human shows that perform in the UK. If you want to be active, obviously you can get involved with CAPS!