In this ‘Diary of an Undercover Activist,’ the inside story of conditions at a well-known (but unnamed) circus is exposed by an employee who posted his observations for all to read.

Note: The following is purported to be a taped message smuggled out and then posted online by an undercover activist whose intention, to quote him, is “To stop cruelty and inhumane treatment wherever I find it.” Here is the transcript:

“It’s after 1 o’clock in the morning, awfully late, I know, but it’s about the only time I can find some privacy to record this audio diary.

“For purposes of this report, just call me Isaiah, because I’m like the Old Testament prophet by that name, who wrote that, ‘Those who walked in darkness have seen a great light. You brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, for the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed.’

“I’d like to smash the owner of this circus, that’s for sure. But you might be wondering why I’m so concerned about a glorified sideshow, when there are so many other abuses going on, so many areas to expose the cruelty that various industries inflict on God’s creatures—factory farms, medical labs (big offenders!), feedlots, racetracks, zoos, stables. Sometimes, it seems hopeless. But I will never give up, I will I never forsake my calling to get inside these hideous places and show the world the barbaric treatment that goes on there.

“This report comes after two weeks that I’ve spent traveling with a circus across California and Nevada, obviously during the hottest month of the year. My job is to unload the equipment, set up the stages and the performing areas, then tear it all down and pack it up for travel to the next scheduled performance. While doing all this hard, exhausting work I’ve had a chance to observe what really goes on inside one of these troupes, and the abuses are sickening.

“What I saw over and over were creatures brought out and put on display for anyone who bought a ticket to gawk at, to yell at them, and shout and scream if they didn’t see the ‘tricks’ they wanted. There’s no privacy at all, and I know for a fact that the circus uses harsh tactics and repetitive practice over and over to get the show set up the way they want it to be.

“Here are just a few of the other abuses I saw:

  • Cramped living quarters, often dirty, crowded and unkempt
  • Limited opportunities to run about, to stretch out and enjoy some freedom from practicing all the time
  • Endless travel, often for hours at a time, with no stopping and no food or water breaks
  • Exploitation by the circus’ greedy owners, who only care about turning a profit while spending as little as possible on upkeep, maintenance and amenities
  • The cruel expectations that “the show must go on,” regardless of sickness, injuries or fatigue
  • A lack of proper feeding areas in natural surroundings, and often there’s nothing that could  remotely be considered as high-quality food available to eat

“These are just some of the egregious oversights, abysmal living conditions and chronic abuse I uncovered during these last few weeks.

“I know this is only one troupe among many more circus operations that travel across North American every summer, but the conditions I see here on a daily basis are certainly no different from any other show, and probably a lot worse in some respects.

“The abuse, the inhumane treatment, the callous disregard for the well-being of the circus ‘headliners’ is absolutely appalling.

“But enough about the performers. Let’s talk about the abuse suffered by the animals!”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.